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The guilt made her do it

Written by on July 29, 2015 at 10:04 am

Beth Keough of Franklin, Massachusetts, didn't set out to walk fifty miles on Cape Cod last fall because she needed the exercise, wanted the blisters, or even because she was raising money to find a cure for a disease she lives with every day — no, she did it out of guilt.

"I was tired of the guilt trips," she laughed.

The guilt trips were from her brother Tom Keough of Milford. Tom had been taking part in Challenge Walk MS on Cape Cod for five years and wanted his sister to join him. Challenge Walk MS is a three-day, 50-mile walk on Cape Cod that raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Beth was diagnosed with MS in 2006.

"I had difficulty walking," she remembered. "I thought it was just a pinched nerve."

Not long after Beth's diagnosis, Tom began participating in the 50-mile walk. Each year he would invite his sister to join him. Her schedule didn't allow her to do so — until last year.

"I always wanted to do it," said Beth. "I had gone to the Saturday night (candlelight) program, and it was such an inspiring thing to see."

Last year, it worked out she could train for and participate in Challenge.

"I decided I would sign up for it — and I was very glad I did."

Not that it was easy: just finding the time to do the long training walks was challenging to say the least.

"It was very difficult, but I did what I could," said Beth. "I definitely wish I had trained more. I did 33 miles (of the 50); it was definitely hard but I pushed through and did what I could."

For big brother Tom, it was great having his sister walking with him.

"It was fun having her out there, trading sarcastic comments and barbs, with her always making sure to keep me humble," he laughed. "I was also very proud at the way she pushed herself past pain and mental hurdles to go farther than she even thought she could. After some stumbles over previous years, it was awesome to see that the changes in treatment were working for her and helping her physically. It gave me a boost, knowing that they are making progress and it's a battle worth fighting. Today, we can walk together for everyone fighting the disease.

The guilt for Beth is gone — replaced by something else.

"A different emotion for me — pride."

Eileen is a Media Relations Specialist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater New England Chapter.

Brother walks for sister with MS

Written by on July 27, 2015 at 10:03 am

When Tom Keough's sister Beth was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, he admits, he felt helpless and initially handled it poorly.

In an effort to do something positive, the Milford resident signed up for a one-day Walk MS in Worcester. He was immediately inspired by all the people he met, walking and working to find a cure for the disease affecting his sister.

Then Tom heard from a friend about the Challenge Walk MS on Cape Cod, a three-day, 50-mile journey to end MS forever. He immediately joined the friend's team, Bonnie's Believers.

"I jumped on board and started looking at different ways I could fundraise for the cause," said Tom. "Meeting so many amazing people along the way has only fueled my passion, and I walk for them as much as for Beth now."

Last year was Tom's sixth Challenge Walk MS, and the first time his sister Beth could join him.

"I was really excited to have her there to experience it as a walker and to meet others who understand what she is going through," said Tom. "Since I started walking, our family has always made Challenge Walk weekend an important time of year and it was cool that she could see it from start to finish. "

Beth and Tom will walk together again in this year's walk. Tom has high hopes for the weekend and beyond.

"My hope is to meet new friends to inspire us and reconnect with old friends who are stronger than they were before, whose treatments have been successful in controlling the disease's effects," he said.

"For my baby sister, I hope that she will continue to push her limits and know that her brother has her back, no matter what she wants to do in life. I hope that we can one day celebrate a cure and know that we were a part of making that happen."

Eileen is a Media Relations Specialist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater New England Chapter.

MS has given him more than it's taken

Written by on September 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Tom Olafsson of Brookline considers himself a very lucky man — despite the fact he has an incurable disease that has required him to have more than 8,000 injections over the past decade.

"Overall, I am a lucky one. I am doing okay," said Olafsson.

Tom has multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed with the unpredictable and often disabling disease in 2004. MS has affected his vision and balance, but overall, Tom feels he's been able to manage his MS.

"I made sure to fight once the initial diagnosis was digested," he recalled. "I got in better shape. I eat better… I have MS but I will continue to battle the best I can."

Nine years ago, he heard about the MS Challenge Walk on Cape Cod: 50 miles over three days. He and his wife Louise signed up. "At the time I felt stuck in my own body and thought the walk would be good for me to do. That is now quite an understatement," he said.

Tom and his wife said the experience seeing hundreds of people walking in support of people with MS "blew them away." Since then, more and more family members have joined their team.

This weekend, Tommy's Team will take part in the 13th annual MS Challenge Walk on Cape Cod — and with every step, Olafsson will count his blessings.

He has the love and support of his wife of nearly 27 years; he has four terrific daughters, one of whom is flying from her home in Spain to walk Challenge; and he sees the positive in everything, including his MS.

Tom Olafsson

Tom Olafsson with his wife Louise and one of their four daughters.


"MS has given me more than it has taken away. All those walkers have given me so much. Seeing all the people … on Sunday makes me want to thank each and every one of them.

Truly, a lucky man.

Eileen is a Media Relations Specialist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater New England Chapter.

Walking together: A family affair

Written by on August 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

When Patty Seaburg of Littleton, MA, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 29, she turned to her boyfriend right then and there in the hospital and gave him an out.

"I told him… you can get out at any time—you don't have to do this," she recalled.

How did Mark, her high school sweetheart, respond?

"He basically told me I was crazy."

That was three years ago, and they have just celebrated their one year wedding anniversary. Mark proposed to Patty a couple days after they completed their first Cape Cod Challenge Walk in September 2012.

"It meant more that he did it after I was diagnosed," she said.

MS didn't keep the couple from celebrating their love and getting married, and it isn't keeping them from taking part in their third Challenge Walk together, September 5–7.

Patty Seaburg

Patty and Mark took the challenge—together.

Patty said it's truly a "family affair" with her mom, one of her sisters, and her sister-in-law walking with her and Mark team The Walka Walka Walkahs! Another sister holds a huge fundraiser each year for their team, while still another sister is part of the volunteer crew that supports the walk. Her brother helps with the fundraising events, and her father, whom she calls her "rock", has volunteered as well.

All this family support is vital to get her through the challenge of walking 50 miles over the course of three days.

"It means everything to me," she said. "It's amazing and makes me feel loved."

Patty's commitment to the cause has grown beyond subjecting her feet to the rigors of the walk; she's also joined the Challenge Walk Steering Committee, helping to plan this huge event.

"She's very dedicated to making this event a success," said Aileen Callahan, Development Manager for Greater New England chapter of the National MS Society.

Patty said seeing hundreds of other walkers taking on the Challenge, many of them also living with MS, bolsters her spirits.

"It's uplifting… It makes you feel not as alone."

Patty will never be alone, not with a husband who never flinched, and a family determined to stand and walk beside her.

Eileen is a Media Relations Specialist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater New England Chapter.

Talking with Paige Magratten

Written by on May 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

Welcome to MS Challenge Talk, a weekly audio recording that introduces you to the people and stories behind MS Challenge Walk.

Team PaigePaige Magratten of Team Rhode Trippers has participated in every MS Challenge Walk. Her team has grown to include her husband Brooks, daughter (and budding poet) Colby, a merger with another local team, and many family and friends. In this week's MS Challenge Talk, Paige talks about having a mixed team of walker and crew, using postal letters and postcards to fundraise, remind, and team-build, and the ways kids can participate in the MS Challenge Walk event and community.

Welcome to MS Challenge Talk, a weekly audio recording that shares the stories and experiences of veterans of those who have walked three days and 50 miles to bring the world closer to a cure for multiple sclerosis, courtesy the National MS Society's MS Challenge Walk. You can subscribe to the show for free in Apple iTunes!

The power of secrets

Written by on October 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

When Todd first asked me to speak at MS Challenge Walk 2006, I was flummoxed. It was only my second year walking; I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to listen to my tale. More important, I couldn't even figure out what that tale was! "Hi, I'm Ken. My mom has MS, and … I walk." What more is there than that?

To help get the creative juices flowing, Todd put me on the phone with Steve, the chapter's communications guru. Steve probed me with questions, prompting me to reveal something that someone else might actually find interesting. He was probably getting as frustrated as I was with my dull answers until he asked, "What was your family's reaction when you told them you were going to walk 50 miles?" I shrugged (not that Steve could see it). "They didn't react," I mumbled. "Why not?" "Because I didn't tell them."

Apparently, it's unusual for a son to walk fifty miles for his mother without telling her. Who knew? So I stood before a thousand walkers and crew, told my story — and was astonished at how it resonated with the audience. Several walkers came up to me afterward and asked, "Are we brothers? Because I'm sure that was my mom you were talking about up there."

I've since had the opportunity to relate aspects of this tale at several different Challenge Walk events. Every time I do, I'm sure by now my story has become old hat — yet I never cease to be surprised at the connections it brings about.

When I got home from this year's walk, I found two Facebook messages waiting for me. One was from a young woman I'm not sure I remember meeting on the Cape. She wanted some of the improved communication between me and my mom in her own life: "I just wanted to say how inspiring your speech was on Friday night, and I called my mom Sunday night to see what she's using for treatment and how her symptoms are." Another crew member, whose story I thought I knew (just like I thought I knew mine, before I started walking), sent me a similarly surprising note: "Your remarks made me tear up. My mom didn't like that I was fundraising for NMSS when I started either, 9 years ago."

I always look forward to the end of the Saturday night candlelight ceremony, because I know at that point, I'll have shed my last tear for that year's Challenge Walk. I didn't know the powerful emotions I find on the Cape could so easily resurface upon hearing these other tales that are so much like mine.

Sharing secrets fosters intimacy, and telling the tale of my family has made the Challenge Walk community into my extended family. But confiding secrets has another hopeful, inspiring result: it lets you know that you are not alone. For every person who struggles with MS, directly or otherwise, there is someone else who has been, or is, where you are now. I was recently given a tangential reminder of this truth by this PostSecret video:

There's no denying it: MS is scary. But when we come together to shine our collective light on it, we can see that it is just as scared of us — because it knows its days are numbered.

Of that, I make no secret.

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

Money motivation

Written by on July 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I'm not sure if it's a Midwestern sensibility, a sense of shyness, or just plain pride, but I have always felt awkward asking people for money. I knew this long before I signed up for the Challenge Walk, so from the start, I knew that the solicitation and fundraising aspects of the event would be my biggest trial.

On any given day, if you gave me the choice, I'd probably be more comfortable walking an extra 30 miles than asking for donations! But that's not the way this walk works, and the bar is set high with a requested $1,500 minimum per walker. So not knowing what else to do, I followed the lead of my boyfriend (a long-time walker and bike crew member for this event) and started writing solicitation letters.

Those who received my solicitation were, without exception, family in some way, and I have the extra challenge of not living near any family. Could I really expect people who live over 1,000 miles from New England to care about this walk? What's more, I know that some of them are having a hard time making ends meet right now; could I in good conscience even solicit them in the first place? With all these questions weighing on me, I became worried that I should start eliminating prospective donors from my already small pool. What's more, I was becoming convinced that there was no possible way to hit that fundraising minimum.

But Ken, kind and sometimes even wise man that he is, gave me a small but intrinsic piece of advice — it's not my place to decide whether someone else can afford to donate, or to decide how big a priority charity is for them. All I can do is offer the opportunity and see who wants to take it.

With that in mind, I rallied my courage, stamped a bunch of envelopes, and dropped them all in the mail before I could change my mind. Now that some donations are coming back, I'm seeing his point: some of the donations are much bigger than I expected. A few are a little smaller. But overall, I'm surprised by the level of generosity my family is showing to this walk — even if they aren't anywhere near New England and don't know anyone who has MS, many of them still want to support me in my pursuits, and for some of them, that's reason enough to contribute. For others, perhaps they're glad to know that I'm spending my spare time promoting good causes. I may not know each person's motivation for donating, but I do respond with all the gratitude I feel for their support.

Though that $1,500 goal is still very lofty, this first round of fundraising has given me the motivation to look for other opportunities to close the gap. I don't know if I'll be selling my home-grown cucumbers, hosting a back-to-school party for my classmates, or just outright begging, but I'm going to do what I can to raise money for this cause. Whether or not I make the minimum, I can walk proudly if I know I gave it my best effort.

Kahmmie was a first-year walker in 2010 and had just started to get involved with the MS community, with the inspiration of her then significant other, Ken, this site's webmaster. She lived in the Boston area and attended graduate school full-time.

Don't be afraid to ask for help!

Written by on May 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

One of the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of our family's first Challenge Walk was the process of actually asking for money. It seems strange that we should be nervous about asking others to give to a charity, but for us, it was difficult.  We felt that our struggles were private and personal, we are after all New Englanders (renowned for our extroverted nature).

When we began the fundraising process, we decided to keep it simple: we would send letters to our family and friends asking them to help fight a disease which had struck our brother (actually my brother-in-law, but after all these years of dating and being married to his sister, he is my brother Gordy). As we went through the list of those we might send our letters to, we began making excuses for why we  shouldn't ask certain people. "They don't have a lot of money," " I don't know them well enough," or "He's just cheap" were ways of disqualifying them from our list. There were inevitably those that we doubted but decided to send anyway.

When our responses started coming back, we had what I consider one of the most powerful moments in our Challenge Walk experience. Many of them said things like "Thank you for considering us part of your friends and family," "We too have a family member with MS," and "What else can we do to help?" We not only brought in more than we thought we would; we expanded our team. Some of our friends and extended family decided to walk and send letters to their friends. Soon, we didn't just have a few siblings and spouses walking — we had a team that spanned the length and breadth of the United States. Gordon's Team was born.

We learned so much that first year, not only about how far we can walk on blisters, or how nice it is to put the cell phone down for three days, or that after twenty miles, a foot soak is pure bliss. We learned that so many people want to help, want to feel connected to someone on a personal level. When the response from "He's just cheap" came back to, our surprise it not only contained a check for $10 (every bit counts!), but a note that read "Thank you for allowing me to contribute to your lives."

Now, every April vacation, my wife Kim creates the Gordon's Team Newsletter and donation request filled with info and photos about Gordon himself and the activities of our team. We make sure that we send it to everyone we know whether they are friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances. We no longer discuss why someone won't help; we just assume the best.

Our little story comes with a word of advice: don't be surprised if some people don't respond. That's OK too, two of my three siblings have never donated to our team. I don't question why, as everyone has their own story, but I send them a letter every year just in case.

This is truly a Challenge Walk. We are challenged to believe in ourselves and more importantly to have faith in others. Keep the faith, and allow people to contribute to your life: it not only helps the cause, but you will feel better about the world and yourself.

Tim is a member of Gordon's Team, named for his brother-in-law, Gordon Mellis. Tim signed up for the Challenge Blog in the hope that his story is both personal and at the same time common enough to be useful to others.