I was diagnosed with MS on November 5, 2007. It took a solid year for me to fully comprehend what the words "you have MS" meant. Having experienced a multitude of unexplained neurological symptoms leading to my diagnosis, my first reaction was one of relief. I'd convinced myself I had a brain tumor. A year later, after spending many hours reading about MS and experiencing two flairs, I began to realize just what this diagnosis might mean for my future.
I decided to volunteer at the National MS Society offices in Waltham and quickly found myself surrounded by an incredible gathering of people — positive, upbeat people determined to make a difference. And it was here that I was introduced to the Challenge Walk.
I remember my first discussion with Brenda Barbour, Associate Vice President of Volunteer Development at the Greater New England Chapter — aka, Mama Hen — about the walk. "Let me get this straight," I said. "Almost 600 people and several hundred volunteers get together to walk for 3 days and 50 miles on Cape Cod? And many of these walkers and volunteers have MS?" "That's right," Brenda said with her trademark wink and southern drawl. Brenda assured me that, should I accept this challenge, the experience would change my life.
And change my life it did. My first Challenge Walk was September of 2011. Brenda was right. The experience had a deep and profound impact on me and I have been at every walk since. That's when I learned that bravery is not the absence of fear — it is action in the face of fear!
At Challenge Walk, I met a group of incredibly committed, compassionate and tough people! These walkers and volunteers are truly a part of a large and ever-expanding family. Multiple sclerosis is the rallying call for this event; it is the cause for which this family pulls together. But the result is much more than raising money for a cure! The result is everlasting, deep, lifelong friendships. Through these friendships, I have learned to face my fears and act!
Over the years, I have met countless people in the Challenge Walk community who have shown by example that those of us living with MS do not have to relinquish control of our lives to this disease. I have learned from this community to make a choice not to be defined by this disease. In joining them I joined a group with a sense of purpose.
When you register for Challenge Walk, you agree to meet several challenges. First, the fundraising: $1,500 is the minimum required for each walker. Then there's the physical challenge. I can tell you that 50 miles is a long, long way to walk, with or without MS! The final challenge is time. As a walker or volunteer, you agree to give up an entire three-day weekend in September. You also need to prepare by training, attending meetings, raising money …. the list goes on and on!
It would be easy to sit on the sidelines complaining about a lack of resources. "I can't raise $1,500 — I don't know enough people!" "I could never participate in this, not with my physical limitations!" "I just don't have time to commit to something like this!"
But the Challenge Walk is a community founded on resourcefulness! Fundraising is done with incredible creativity. Folks come together to host fundraisers, from comedy nights to cocktail parties, from harbor cruises to pub crawls — the list is seemingly endless! On walk weekend, you will see people overcome incredible physical challenges to participate in the walk. Whether wheeling the route, using canes, walkers or other mobility aids, or simply walking until their body has had enough, all these people choose to participate any way they can.
Finally, throughout the year, walkers and volunteers find the time (or make the time) to engage in the year-round preparation for the walk's weekend. As I found out first-hand, once you participate in one Challenge Walk, you will be back. It is just that powerful of an experience!
If you haven't joined this community yet — what are you waiting for? There is plenty of room for you here and an entire community ready to help you engage. Come on out and join the family!
Jim was diagnosed with MS in 2007. Upon hearing of his diagnosis, Kristen and Paul Bello, owners of Chili Head Barbecue Restaurant in West Bridgewater, held a community fundraiser in Jim's name. Motivated by this incredible outpouring of support, Jim launched the Chili Head Strider Walk team in 2008. The team completed two walks in Easton before stepping up to MS Challenge Walk in 2010. The Striders will walk until a cure is found!