BIDDEFORD — Nearly 400 cyclists gathered at the Biddeford campus of the University of New England Saturday, August 13, 2016 to ride their bikes for two days along the southern coast of Maine on behalf of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“This year, there are riders from 20 different states registered,” said Sue Tidd, the MS150 event organizer from Waterville. “We hope to raise more than $400,000 this weekend.”
Tidd said the event started 32 years ago in an effort to raise awareness about the disease and funds to help with necessary research.
“It’s been here (at UNE) for four years,” she said. “And before that, it was held at St. Josephs College, in Windham.”
In the beginning, riders from the northern part of the state would meet up with riders from the southern half of the state near the Belgrade lakes, Tidd said.
“They’d spend the night on (the road) then ride home the next day. It was pretty informal,” she said.
The MS150 in Biddeford is one of 100 such rides across the country, said Lori Espino, president of the New England chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“Together, that makes this one of the largest charity events in the country,” she said.
This year, riders could choose one of four different routes – 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles. Each route started and finished on the campus of UNE, and while many of the riders participated as a team, many simply rode with family and friends.
Donna and Jim Buttarazzi of Arundel were riding with their son Jake and one of his classmates from Thornton Academy, Peter Hyde.
“This is going to be great,” Donna Buttarazzi said. “Jim and I are riding the 25-mile route, and the boys are going to do 50 miles each day.”
For them and most other riders, the event began on a personal note as they thought about family members and friends who were afflicted with the disease.
Sumner Weeks of Kennebunk has ridden in the event for many years as a member of the “Kelly’s Kruisers” team, and has consistently been one of the top individual fundraisers.
“A friend of mine, Jeanette Andersen, was diagnosed with the disease, and I ride each year and think of her,” he said.
For some, the event is even more personal. Bill Sykes of Plymouth, Massachusetts, volunteered with five other people to act as a road marshal during the ride. His daughter, Becky, was diagnosed with MS three years ago, and together they have participated in rides throughout New England.
“I’ll ride along and help if someone has a problem with their bike, a flat tire or even something mechanical,” he said. “It’s a great way for me to help.”
Many of the teams assembled on the campus before 7 a.m. for team photos, and just before 7:30 a.m., all of the riders lined up in front of the student union for the official send-off.
Some even wore a special jersey indicating they were riding the event after having been diagnosed with MS.
“Look for the riders with the ‘I Ride With MS’ jerseys,” Tidd said moments before the start. “They are wearing that jersey so you will talk to them and learn about the impact of MS on their lives and their families.”
For a moment, the riders turned to look for the jerseys, and then a spontaneous cheer erupted from the group.
Bill Sykes glanced at Dave Hukill, one of the other road marshals, and smiled.
“It’s going to be a good day,” he said.
Follow me on twitter (@DavidArenstam) or facebook (AuthorDavidArenstam) and look for my new novel, Homecoming: A Soldier’s Story of Loyalty Courage, and Redemption at bookstores or at Bryson Taylor Publishing.