A chance meeting with a woman in a coffee shop in Florida is all it took for an Alexandria woman to sign up for the "Bike the US for MS" ride along the Pacific Coast.
Angie Johnson, a 2000 graduate of Wadena High School who has lived in Alexandria for the last 10 years, will start the 32-day, 1,852-mile bicycle ride next Tuesday, Aug. 6. Her 16-member team starts in Seattle and ends in San Diego.
While on a group bike ride in Florida, Johnson met a woman in a coffee shop who told them about the Bike the US for MS ride that she was involved in. Johnson was immediately intrigued.
She is no stranger to rides that support multiple sclerosis, a cause that is near and dear to her heart. She has participated in the MS Tram Ride for several years – first in 2007, and her last was in 2010 when her dad, Terry Johnson, was still alive.
Johnson's dad, a school janitor in Wadena, was diagnosed with MS when he was 20 years old. He lived with the disease for 35 years before passing away seven years ago.
"He had MS my entire life," said Johnson. "Most of my childhood, though, it wasn't that noticeable. But I do remember going to an MS support group."
When Johnson was in junior high, she remembers doing her science fair project about MS and how afterward she had a much better understanding of the disease. She called MS a mystery because it affects people differently and scientists still have so much to learn about it. They are making progress however; so much that Johnson is hopeful for the future.
"I think in my lifetime, there will be a cure," she said. "Preventing it though, that's another thing."
About the ride
Riders in the Bike the US for MS ride raise funds for MS. Johnson set a goal to raise $7,000 and is nearly there, raising $6,089 so far. She embarks on her journey next Tuesday and the ride ends on Sept. 6. She said 90 cents of every dollar raised goes toward MS-related causes.
The Bike the US for MS organization partners with the National MS Society to provide direct financial assistance to families for things like home modifications, medical equipment, emergency assistance, vehicle modifications, mental health needs and gym memberships/wellness programs.
They also provide funding for research and treatment at Fairview MS Achievement Center in St. Paul, the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle, the James Q. Miller MS Clinic in Charlottesville and the Weill Institute for Neurosciences in San Francisco.
During the ride, cyclists stop at locations in either Seattle or San Francisco to give a donation and meet people who have MS, along with those working to cure it. Riders will also participate in service projects on days they don't ride. Johnson said the service projects are for people who have MS and maybe need help painting a deck or some other type of project.
"What I find exciting about this ride is the opportunity to help people along the way and to spread awareness for MS," she said.
Riders will bike anywhere from 40-100 miles per day, with the average being about 66, she said. During her training, the longest ride Johnson had was 65 miles. Her training plan includes at least one ride between 85-100 miles.
"I am excited for the adventure," she said. "It really has been a journey of faith leading up to the moment of using my passion of riding for a purpose. I am looking forward to all the people I am going to meet, to spreading MS awareness and encouraging others along the way."
More than a dad
Johnson's dad was her friend and mentor. One of the greatest lessons he taught her was to always help others, which is another reason this ride is so important to her.
On her fundraising page, Johnson logs updates of her journey and also writes about her dad, including the many lessons she learned from him. One of those lessons was about being brave. Riding across the country and camping didn't really scare her, she said, because she doesn't have much fear. Being brave and fearless were traits – or lessons – she got from her dad.
Her dad was stubborn and never gave up, she said, which is something she will be thinking about on her ride.
"My dad became trapped in his own body," she said. "He lost the ability to walk and to talk, but that didn't stop him."
The last few years of his life were hard, Johnson said. Because her dad knew he had to keep up his core strength as best as he could, she said he would try and work out exercise videos. Before he lost his ability to walk, he would ever-so-slowly walk up and down the ramp that was added to her parents' house.
"It was painful to watch because he did it so slowly and because one of his legs would drag behind him. It took so much effort, but he did it because he still could," Johnson said. "He never gave up, but his body eventually gave out on him."
On her fundraising page, Johnson said her dad would have loved the adventure she is about to embark on. New, unknown, difficult or dangerous didn't matter to him and he was always up for a challenge.
"I'm not sure he had any regrets, but I know he didn't worry or hesitate," she said. "He just lived life to the fullest."