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Meet Our Walk MS Ambassadors
Special thanks to our 2014 Walk MS Ambassadors, Laurie & Staci Ryan and Barbara Sager!
Please read their stories below to learn how they are doing something about MS now!
Laurie and Staci Ryan are a mother-daughter team looking to fight and ultimately find a cure for multiple sclerosis. On April Fool's Day in 2001, Laurie and her family received the devastating news that she was diagnosed with MS. With this diagnosis, the lives of the Ryan family were forever changed. With the love and support of her husband Leslie, her daughter Staci and her son Matthew, Laurie began to conquer this disease day-by-day. She was struggling immensely with accepting the diagnosis, as was the rest of her family. At just the age of 13, Staci had to learn how to give her mother daily Copaxone injections. The entire family fought hard to stay positive and supportive, although at times it was certainly not easy. Shortly after the diagnosis, the entire Ryan family reached out to the New Jersey Chapter of National Multiple Sclerosis Society for help. Reaching out to receive chapter support was the best thing they could have ever done.
Fast forward to this year. Laurie has come to terms with her diagnosis and fights it with everything she has inside of her. Through the Society she participates in support groups, yoga and swim therapy. Staci, on the other hand has become an MS advocate and an avid fundraiser. She witnesses her mom's daily struggles and continues to strive to improve Laurie's quality of life. Staci is also the team captain of team DON'T MS WITH US! Last year she participated in both the 5K Fun Run and Walk MS at Ridgefield Park.
Although living with MS poses many challenges, it has also given Laurie and Staci a lot to be grateful for. They have an incredibly supportive and loving family and equally supportive and loving friends. They always give back, try to see the
positives and ALWAYS continue to combat MS. Please join them in supporting this truly worth cause ... they sincerely appreciate it!
"Together we can create a world free of MS!"
This year, 2014, will be my 26th MS Walk! Yes, the Chapter is celebrating its 25th annual walk, but some areas
actually sponsored walks a year earlier. When I first saw a small flyer announcing the walk event, I knew I had
no choice but to participate. My first walk was in 1989 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where I lived back then. Marblehead touts itself as being the sailing capital of the world and there was a group of about 20 hardy souls that day, in our best yellow foul-weather gear, walking through town and along the causeway in the cold drizzle.
Every year since then I've done a walk to raise awareness and funds for the MS Society. I was still in Marblehead for
the 1990 walk, and I started "checking out" the New Jersey sites in 1991 after I moved here. My first Jersey Walk was
around the Brookdale College campus (or maybe it was Thompson Park) and it was a muddy one. Since then, I've walked along the shore at Sandy Hook, the original Spring Lake/Lake Como walk (does anyone remember the year of the blizzard when some of us did a shortened walk in the snow on the sand?) and Freehold. Since joining Weezer's Walkers in 2004, most of my walks have been in Belmar. My walks are not always at a registered site, although they are planned to coincide with walks happening elsewhere. I have found myself in other parts of the world on Walk day, including: Melbourne, Australia; Edinburgh, Scotland; Paris, France; and Arlington, Virginia.
Why did I feel I had to walk? Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had MS. I never knew my grandmother, but I certainly knew and understood the impact on a family living with MS. One morning during the summer I turned five, my mother, previously an avid swimmer, skier and ice skater, didn't get up to make breakfast. That was just not like her. She had been diagnosed before I was born, but this was my first inkling anything was amiss. In the late 1940s, pretty much the only treatment option was corticosteroids. From here, her progression was relatively rapid and she was hospitalized for further treatment when I was about seven. She never returned home, moving instead to a nursing home where my father and I visited regularly until her death almost 17 years later.
As an adult I knew I wanted, and needed, to do something proactive to help other families cope with the effects of this disease. My initial involvement was to sign up and do that first Walk MS in 1989. By then, I had started practicing yoga and noticed a profound sense of well-being when I was consistent in my practice. It took me another 13 years of
practice and a lot of yoga teacher training hours to begin teaching yoga to people with MS, osteoporosis, and Parkinson's, as well as other mobility-limiting issues. Earlier this year, I completed a 1200-hour yoga therapeutics training program. At the request of the MS Society, I teach two classes per week at Kershaw Commons in Freehold. One is chair-based and the other includes standing and seated mat work. The real key to yoga is in the breath. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. I also teach two weekly limited mobility classes at Sunnyside Recreation Area for Monmouth County Parks and two other mixed level yoga classes at other Parks locations. My dog, Jiva, a Therapy Dogs International registered therapy dog, accompanies me for all the limited mobility classes. She always knows who needs an extra cuddle at the close of class.
When I did my initial funds solicitations, I was surprised at how few people had any idea what the letters MS even stood
for, never mind what that meant. A lot of energy was spent those first years spreading awareness. Walking is the easy part; going from door-to-door in my neighborhood and beyond is the work. But, it's well worth it! I very rarely have to do any explaining anymore and many of my "regulars" greet me with a hearty "is it that time of year again?" as they head for their checkbook.
I raised about $10,000 over the first 13 years, about $50,000 over the next six years, and have averaged around $10,000 each year since then. The past two years have been a challenge, between the economic challenges many face and the fact that since I retired, I no longer have regular contact with many folks who have supported my efforts over the years.
My association with team Weezer's Walkers began in 2004 when I volunteered to teach a limited mobility yoga class for a local support group. There I met Nancy Wass, a vibrant woman who was diagnosed in 1985. When I learned she regularly participated in the MS Walks, I asked if I could join her team and walk with her, her family and friends. As they say, the rest is history.
It's rewarding to know I'm giving back, both by raising much-needed funds for programs and research and by offering tools to help those living with MS cope with many of the stresses of daily life.