Parkites ready to battle the heat during Bike MS | ParkRecord.com

Parkites ready to battle the heat during Bike MS

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

"We’re all everyday people, but people like to be a celebrity every now and then," Ruth Flanagan explained.

Flanagan, a Park City resident for five years, will be one of 3,000 cyclist celebrities this weekend as the annual National Bike MS Utah ride returns.

The two-day event is centered in Cache County, where cyclists will begin in Logan and set out over the picturesque terrain of the Cache Valley. Today is the first day of the event when riders participating in the fundraiser will have a chance to ride 40, 75 or 100 miles. The final day of the ride, Sunday, will offer a chance to ride 40 or 75 miles.

Prior to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002, Flanagan had competed in several Iron Man Triathlons. But that was before she was diagnosed with MS, an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms can range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.

"My triathlon days got left behind because running was part of it," said the Queenstown, New Zealand native, who is the director of special events for the United States Ski & Snowboard Association. "Biking was my favorite, anyway."

In her fifth year participating in the Bike MS event, Flanagan is part of Team Brain, sponsored by the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. The team is made up of more than 60 cyclists; some have MS, while others are doctors and researchers who are striving to find a cure for the disease.

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In previous years, she’s been able to ride both days of the event and has also finished the popular LOTOJA race from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

"Living in Park City is all about the outdoors," Flanagan said.

For Kirstin Luff, the Bike MS event is just another way to participate in the culture of coming together for a specific cause. A five-year Park City resident, Luff was diagnosed with MS seven years ago. She was originally approached by friends to participate in the ride.

The team, aptly called Team Kirstin, has 37 participants from all over the country.

"It’s grown from a handful of friends to friends of friends, and even people in the Park City area call and say, ‘Hey, can we be on your team?’" she said. "To me, it’s the best weekend of the summer. I’m so sad when it’s over. You’re just surrounded by friends and by people that truly care about finding a cure for the disease. Everybody there knows somebody who has been affected by the disease."

The weekend’s mileage is taxing for anyone, she said, especially for someone dealing with MS.

"The last two years I’ve rode LOTOJA, and any time you go out and ride 100 miles, you’re out there between five and six hours and the heat can play a factor," said the manager of Pearl Izumi at the Tanger Outlets. "It just zaps your strength."

Park City resident Donna Bernstein is ready to participate in her sixth Bike MS event this weekend. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2003 and since then her family has participated in many MS events, including one in 2003 in Orange County, Calif.

"We just jumped on board and have been riding ever since," she said. "There’s just camaraderie when you’re out there riding. I look at it as, if someone donates to the society, it trickles down and it affects me.

"All these people are out there riding for me."

Bernstein is part of Team Fredcast, started by her husband, David. This year the team will have five participants, including a rider from England who happens to be in town this weekend.

While the event is growing in popularity — it is Utah’s largest cycling fundraising event and raised $1.5 million last year — Mother Nature may have her say in the outcome this weekend.

Temperatures could reach triple digits even in the Cache Valley this weekend, and the heat is an enemy of those afflicted with MS.

"The heat completely exacerbates (my symptoms)," Bernstein said. "It will be what it will be. I will deal with it the best I can. I’ll probably take water and dump it over my head. It will add to the challenge, but it will make it more interesting."

For more information on this weekend’s event, visit http://www.bikemsutah.org .