Despite its huge success over the years raising more than $50 million for the fight against MS, the now-famous City to Shore Ride had a humble and bumbling beginning.
It was in 1981 that the first group of cyclists – 78 in total – rode the “MS150” from Philadelphia to Ocean City and back with only one rest stop featuring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While the sandwiches were popular with the riders, the vats of peanut butter were even more popular with the local bee population who terrorized the cyclists. It was one of the many painful lessons organizers learned that first year.
However, arriving in Ocean City took the sting out of the problems faced that first year and every year after. “It was the right location, the right distance and just the right fit for our event,” recalls Judy Cohen, the National MS Society official who helped found the event. “People love the Shore, but they especially love Ocean City and they loved the idea of cycling to it. And its family-friendly nature was a major selling point for us.”
When Cohen pitched the idea of a bike tour to Ocean City to Larry Kane, the then Philadelphia NBC10 news anchor, he simply thought a cycling fundraiser might be a good way to raise a few much-needed dollars.
MS City to Shore Ride: More than 7,000 cyclists raise over $5 million to combat Multiple Sclerosis in one of the largest bike tours in the country. For information and to register, call 1-800-445-BIKE or visit www.mscycling.org.
“This was 17 years after my mother died from the disease and I wanted to do something to help other people living with MS,” recalls Kane. “There were very few services for people and no treatments. It was an awful situation.” Kane got fully behind the event, becoming its chairman, recording TV ads, getting Bicycling Magazine involved and even cycling to Ocean City with his wife Donna that first year.
To say the event has grown since then is a bit of an understatement. The 2013 Bike MS: City to Shore Ride will attract 7,000 cyclists, requiring 1,200 volunteers, 200 safety marshals, 24 bike mechanics and five rest stops stocked with everything from energy bars to grilled chicken sandwiches.
As one would expect, the money raised has also increased — the ride is expected to generate more than $5.5 million in 2013. When asked if she thought the event would ever raise that much, Cohen says with a laugh “I couldn’t count that high. We had no idea how big the event would become; we were happy when we hit $100,000!”
Cohen, who is retired after a more than 30-year career with the MS Society, notes that things have changed since 1981 that have worked in City to Shore’s favor. First, cycling was a sport that was just gaining in popularity. Secondly, life at the shore was much different back then. “All the hotels closed down after Labor Day – we had to beg them to stay open so we could hold our event,” Cohen says.
Things have also changed for people with living MS. In 1981, finding out you had MS meant facing a lifelong battle against numbness, blindness, fatigue and even paralysis with no effective treatment.
Today, there are 10 Federal Drug Administration-approved disease-modifying medications available; including the first oral treatments (all earlier medications required injections or infusions.) The good news is that treatments for MS now exist; the bad news is that the drugs are expensive and don’t work for everyone. At best, they control rather than cure MS.
Still, there is hope for better treatments and, one day, a cure – hope that is due, in no small part, to the $200 million that was invested in MS research this year by the MS Society. It’s an investment that would not be possible without the work of local cyclists who make the trek to Ocean City year after year.
The strength of the ride and its impact on the fight against of MS is something Larry Kane is particularly proud of.
“Most people get involved because they like the idea of riding to Ocean City, one of the most beautiful spots on the Jersey Shore,” explains Kane. “But when they cross the finish line and they see the many people affected by MS cheering them on, they realize it’s about more than that. MS is a great cause and Ocean City is a great place – that combination has made this one of the most popular cycling events in the country.”
— By Lauren Canzanese for the MS 150 City to Shore Ride