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What I learned in 2013

Written by on Feb 5, 2014

In each of my five years of walking the MS Challenge Walk, I've learned something new. Last year in particular was a very eye opening year for me and the rest of my amazing team, Sweaty Already/Sweat'n for Susan, named after my courageous, beautiful, strong mom, who has been living and learning how to manage her MS since 2003.

Last year, we were coming off of a very busy 2012 and an already busy start to 2013. I was married in October 2012; my first adorable nephew was born in January 2013; and my twin sister got married in March 2013. To say we had a busy couple of months is an understatement. But throughout that time I was excited to think what more I could do in 2013 to help raise funds and awareness for multiple sclerosis. We did decently with fundraising in 2012, but not nearly as well as our team wanted. But the adrenaline of those busy months led to us having an "aha" moment in spring 2013 of how to jumpstart our fundraising.

Team Sweaty Already

Team Sweaty Already

The MS Challenge Walk is a great place to connect with others who are affected by this disease, but it's also a fundraiser to find a cure and help those living with MS now. People fundraise in different ways: letter-writing campaigns, social media, direct asks, email outreach, restaurant nights and stand alone events are all great. The key is finding something you enjoy doing and something that your friends and family will enjoy either participating in or helping with. Our first three years of fundraising, we solely relied on letter-writing campaigns and a few small fundraisers at a generous local paint-your-own pottery shop in North Reading. I knew I could do more, though — I just needed to figure out what.

Each year my husband Brian and I host a summer cookout for all our friends and family. We have a rousing volleyball game, a fire pit, ladder ball, Polish horseshoes, music, cornhole boards (bean bag toss), and more. We always enjoy this get-together, and here was my "aha" moment: why don't I organize a cornhole tournament? I enjoy playing, my friends and family enjoy playing, I know how to organize brackets, and I knew it would be fairly easily to execute and enjoyable for me. So we hit the ground running: we secured a location that was amazing to work with, the Knights of Columbus in Wilmington; and we reached out to local restaurants for food donations and newspapers for publicity; and we hung flyers all throughout Wilmington and the surrounding towns to spread the word.

Cornhole tournamentIt worked: come the day of Bags and Beers (that's the name of the event), we had 32 teams, over 25 raffle items, donated food, and volunteers to help, too. That's another tip: if you are planning an event, remember to get volunteers to take charge of certain areas of the event — that way, you aren't doing everything on the day of! That one event brought in close to $4,000. We even purchased custom cornhole boards that we can reuse each year.

For me, this was an easy event to organize since I enjoyed doing it and had experience with the subject matter. If I'd had to plan something I was unfamiliar with, such as a a golf tournament (what's a handicap?), or something that I am not really interested in, it would be harder. That is my main tip for anyone interested in starting an event: to increase your fundraising for the MS Challenge Walk, pick something you enjoy doing.

Sweat dries, blisters heal

Sweat dries, blisters heal:
suck it up for MS!

My execution wasn't flawless, though — "mistakes were made"! I was so excited to be planning this amazing event that I completely neglected to train for the walk! Wow, did the 2013 MS Challenge Walk do a number on my toes and feet! The National MS Society Greater New England Chapter provides training tips and even a suggested training calendar with how much you should be walking as the Challenge Walk gets closer. Use it! Also, try to buy your sneakers ahead of time and really break them in — same with socks. One walking tip that typically works for me is changing my sneakers at lunch. Just like with your change-of-clothes bag, it helps to have a slightly different shoe halfway through the day — different fabrics and styles of sneaker allow parts of your foot that might have been irritated to breathe.

So what did I learn in 2013? That planning a fundraiser isn't as hard as you think, as long as it's something you enjoy; that people will donate items and food to your event, all you need to do is ask and get over that first no, and that it's REALLY important to train; but blisters really do heal (eventually). See you all in September!

Tara has been participating in MS Challenge Walk since 2010 in honor of her mother, Susan, who was diagnosed with MS in 2003. Her mom is her greatest inspiration, and this is just one way team Sweaty Already, which consists of Tara, her twin sister Shelley and their respective husbands, gives strength to those with MS and their families each year. Tara lives in Halifax, Massachusetts with her husband, Brian, who has been walking alongside her at MS Challenge Walk since 2010.