Riding across the finish line of the Bike MS tram ride, Nikki Lohse has never had a dry eye. She doesn't expect this year to be any different.
"The sheer accomplishment of riding 300 miles is amazing," she said. "We're just a group of moms, grandmas, sisters, daughters, breast cancer survivors. The adrenaline gets us through the ride and the determination and pride we feel, which is amazing, gets us across the finish line."
Lohse, from Ottertail, has been riding in the Bike MS event for the past eight years. She is one of 10 women on the team, "No MSing Around." Three of her teammates - Lynn Barton, Karla Brummond and Rochelle Walberg - are from Alexandria. When added together, the team has 93 combined years of riding in the Bike MS tram ride.
Lohse, Walberg and Barton spoke to the Sertoma organization at their June 5 luncheon at Broadway Ballroom.
This year's ride, set for July 21-26, starts in Willmar and goes to Montevideo, Ortonville, Benson and back to Willmar. The 300-mile Bike MS is a fundraising cycling series for the National MS Society.
Cyclists, volunteers and donors have raised more than $1.3 billion to help stop MS in its tracks, restore what's been lost and end MS forever, according to the MS Bike website. More than 50 Bike MS tram rides are planned this year across the country, with just the one ride taking place in Minnesota.
Lohse said there will be roughly 700 riders in the Minnesota ride and more are always encouraged to join.
"We want more involvement and want to incorporate more riders to join in the fun," said Lohse, who started riding for her cousin, Mary, who is battling MS. Lohse said it has changed Mary's life, as well as that of her family. "This is something that is hard for our family to see," she said, "so instead of just sitting back and watching, we ride in her honor."
The 2019 fundraising goal for the No MSing Around team is $28,000, which is $2,000 more than it raised last year. So far, the team has raised more than $11,000. Lohse said that all the money raised by the team goes to the local chapter of the MS Society.
"The money stays local, which is pretty impressive," she said.
Set in my ways
Walberg, who works as a paraprofessional for Alexandria School District 206, joined the No MSing Around team three years ago.
"I started because when I talked about it to others, they said there was no way I could do 300 miles," said Walberg. "I'm kind of stubborn and set in my ways, so when someone tells me I can't, I try to prove them wrong."
After her first ride, she was hooked. It helped that after she started collecting donations, she got word that a friend's dad was diagnosed with MS. During her first ride, Walberg said she rode for "Papa Jones." The ride even hit closer to home when a couple of months later, her cousin's wife was also diagnosed with MS.
"I will ride until there is a cure," said Walberg. "Every day on the ride now, I write a name of someone who is battling or battled MS on my leg to remind me of what we are fighting for. We all ride for different people, but in the end, we are all fighting for the same thing - a cure!"
Walberg posts about the ride on her Facebook page and said she receives plenty of positive feedback. She recalled someone who saw the posting and approached her.
"The woman told me she has MS and that she appreciates what we are doing," said Walberg. "It was super emotional. I am so excited to be a part of this team and so happy they asked me to be on it."
Positive role model
This year's Bike MS tram ride will be Barton's fifth. In January 2015, she decided she wanted to try something new to better herself and to help others.
"And more importantly, I wanted to show my children we all have a heart and everyone should help out one another," said Barton. "It takes a village to spread the joy and to help." She also did it for the physical fitness aspect.
Barton was invited by her friend, Lohse, to be a part of the team.
"When she told me about it, I was instantly hooked," said Barton, who started to train at the Alexandria YMCA and began her fundraising efforts. "And just like that, it was time for our week trip. My generous place of employment bought me the bike I had been renting and I got to ride knowing that the bike was all mine. I literally rode all week on adrenaline."
Barton said she is so grateful to be able to ride for all of those who would love to ride and can't, and says she does the ride for all the MS families. Her teammates call themselves a "TRAMily" and find it a joy to meet all the people who come from all different walks of life
"I've met so many riders from all over the U.S. and individuals who have MS, exchanging hugs, tears, stories, and that is what connects us," said Barton.
The No MSing Around team has formed a strong bond over the years and Barton said she is grateful to share so many memories with such passionate and caring women. Her hope is that one day her children will join her on the ride.
"We always welcome new riders to our TRAMIly team," said Barton. "We can all go the distance - one pedal at a time."
Team No MSing Around
• Lynn Barton, Alexandria
• Karla Brummond, Alexandria
• Rochelle Wallberg, Alexandria
• Heidi Hilzendeger, Bismarck
• Kathy Woods, Hillman
• Karen Meyman, Inver Grove Heights
• Emmy Hensel, Oak Grove
• Nikki Lohse, Ottertail
• Betty Lou Eichens, Park Rapids
• Kathy Sauer, St. Cloud
The team has two support drivers, Brenda Schoenrock from Alexandria and Elle Hensel from Park Rapids, who take care of the gear, such as tents, sleeping bags, etc. They help set up and tear down the group's campsite and provide support along the 300-mile trek.