Over 400 cyclists pedaled across the Island this weekend to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The cyclists came to the Vineyard from all over the world to participate in the ride. Many of them were personally affected by multiple sclerosis, either by diagnosis or being close to someone who has been diagnosed.

“I was diagnosed with MS last year, actually on the Vineyard,” said Page Hirons, who wore an orange and blue shirt that proclaimed “I ride with MS” across the chest. When she was diagnosed, she was staying with her boyfriend Tyler Heineman, who works at Back Door Donuts. He also participated in the ride.

“That’s why our team name is Fritters in Motion,” Ms. Hirons said. Their 11-member team, which was captained by Mr. Heineman, raised over $15,000.

Pedaling in Katama — riders had the choice of one of three routes: 18, 26 or 60 miles long. — Ray Ewing

By the time riders set off from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on Saturday morning, the organization’s fundraising goal of $460,000 had already been surpassed, according to Jennifer Dowdy, development director of Bike MS, the fundraising cycling series that is part of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Each cyclist had to raise at least $250 to be eligible. They could either register as individuals or as part of a team.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society uses these funds in a variety of ways. Some of the money goes towards research to better understand the chronic disease, which has no clear cause. Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks parts of the central nervous system, including the protective sheath that covers nerves. This disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

In addition to research, money raised goes towards programs that assist people with multiple sclerosis on a personal level, such as the MS navigator program, which offers one-on-one support.

“That could be if they need some car modifications or some walking assistance,” said Ms. Dowdy in a phone interview ahead of the event. “If they need to connect with a support group or medical professionals, they’re having trouble paying rent because they have to take a leave from their employment, all kinds of challenges that our MS navigators can help them navigate through.”

Team Broken Spokes. — Ray Ewing

On Saturday morning, the cyclists gathered at tables and beneath tents outside of the regional high school before the ride began. Some stretched or brought their bikes to the mechanics who volunteered their time and expertise.

Just before 9 a.m., conversations hushed and the clicking of spokes slowed to a stop for opening remarks and singing the national anthem. The song was performed by Caroline Brennan, who was diagnosed with MS in 2008 and captained the team Broken Spokes.

People applauded as the cyclists left the parking lot. A group of four women in bright wigs and tutus, dubbed “Team Spirit,” rang cowbells and cheered as waves of bikers passed by.

Each member of Team Spirit held a photo pinned to their chest of their friend, Eileen M. Kneeland, who died earlier this year. Her husband, David Kneeland, traveled from Worcester to participate in the event.

“I’ve ridden it for 20 years. I started doing it after my wife was diagnosed,” Mr. Kneeland said. “We rode it together for many years. In her last years, she became a cheerleader.”

Team Spirit keeps the energy up. — Ray Ewing

The cyclists set out on one of three routes: 18, 26 and 60 miles long. Three rest stops were set up along the routes, staffed with volunteers from the Rotary Club, local bike shop owners, and other individuals.

“We couldn’t do it without these guys, the volunteers,” said cyclist Paul Joyce as he grabbed a snack from the tables set up at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.

Sunday Burke, whose daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and works at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, was stationed at the Chilmark School rest stop, which was decorated with Star Wars party supplies. Another volunteer directed bikers with a green light saber.

“The problem is there are so many specific forms [of MS],” Ms. Burke explained as she adjusted the baby Yoda costume her fellow volunteer was wearing.

Symptons also vary from person to person, but some of the common ones include fatigue, vision problems, numbness and muscle spasms.

Race raised over $460,000. — Ray Ewing

According to a 2019 study funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease is more prevalent in the northeast than elsewhere in the United States.

“In the colder climates, we find that anything above the equator tends to have a higher rate of MS,” said Andrea Maloney, who works for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “We don’t know the specific reasons for that at this moment, but that is typically what we find.”

Throughout the day, riders returned to the large orange arch at the regional high school parking lot. They were greeted by the booming voice of MC Ben Williams welcoming them to the finish line, along with a group of volunteers holding out medals for the cyclists to grab as they sped past. Cyclists stayed at the high school to eat lunch, play Jenga and corn hole with their children, and cheer on the other returning bikers.

Several cyclists wore the same jersey as Ms. Hirons, with the word “I ride with MS” written across the front and back. These jerseys are made by Bike MS for cyclists with multiple sclerosis to help raise additional awareness about who can be impacted.

Veronica Loya, a writer from western Massachusetts, was diagnosed in 2008.

“This year has been phenomenal because I was able to do this on my own bike without an electric bike or an assist,” Ms. Loya said. “Before I get on the bike, I do a mental check. Make sure all of my muscles are going to be...cooperating enough that I can walk afterwards.”

She added that the event showed how important it is to keep moving when living with multiple sclerosis.

“The movement that we do on these bikes represents every single day, getting up and being able to do things, whether it’s big or small. It doesn’t have to be 26 miles. It can be going to the sink to go get your water....It’s really huge to keep moving and this represents it.”

Ms. Dowdy took the stage later in the afternoon to thank the volunteers and cyclists for their hard work. She also presented several awards, including rookie team of the year, which was given to Fritters in Motion. She also reminded the audience that, although the routes were closing, fundraising was far from over.

“We are closing in on half a million dollars in fundraising,” Ms. Dowdy said, “The fundraising doesn’t end at the finish line, so make sure you’re sharing your accomplishments today…and continue fundraising for the next month through June third.”

Visit nationalmssociety.org. 

More pictures.