Breckenridge resident Cameron Laidlaw and her family are no strangers to donating time and money for a cause. Laidlaw’s online business, That’s So Snackshop, donates a portion of its proceeds to preventing hunger in America, and every Christmas Laidlaw, her husband, Doug, daughter, Andi, 18, and son, Wil, 16, drive to Denver to hand out beanie hats at the rescue mission.
On Saturday, June 28, the Laidlaw family traveled to Fort Collins to participate in a fundraiser to benefit a particularly personal cause — the Newmont Bike MS event, put on by the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It’s personal because Laidlaw, 44, has been living with the disease for 20 years.
Multiple sclerosis, often abbreviated as MS, affects the central nervous system. According to the National MS Society website, multiple sclerosis “interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. Symptoms range from reduced or lost mobility to numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.”
In Laidlaw’s case, her MS first manifested as persistent double vision. She was a college student at the time, only 24 years old, which is common, according to the website.
“Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million worldwide.”
Colorado has one of the highest rates of MS in the country, according to Carrie Nolan, president of the MS Society’s Colorado-Wyoming chapter. Around 1 in 400 people in Colorado have MS, according to the organization’s statistics, though Nolan added that many with MS move to Colorado for its climate, so the number of patients currently living in Colorado does not necessarily reflect the number who developed the disease in the state.
Living life to the fullest
Laidlaw’s diagnosis did not keep her from graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in physiology. Throughout the years, she has held a variety of jobs — including personal trainer, photographer, teacher and businesswoman — in addition to raising her two children. The family moved to Summit County nine years ago, drawn, as are many others, by the mountains, both for the scenic views and the multitude of activities available.
Like many Summit residents, Laidlaw leads an active lifestyle. She loves road biking and taking walks in the wilderness behind her Breckenridge home with any of the family’s six dogs. She splits her time between That’s So Snackshop and work as a substitute teacher for the Summit School District.
She’s “always going,” said Kate Kostan, a childhood friend of Laidlaw’s who flew from Chicago to participate in the Bike MS event. “She doesn’t stop.”
“It’s important, too, that you don’t just stop,” Laidlaw added, and not let the diagnosis keep one from living life. And she hasn’t.
This was the third year she has participated in the Bike MS event.
“It was so nice; there was so much support,” she said.
“I thank everyone who dedicates their time, energy and efforts to support this cause because it continues to make a difference in my life and everyone else affected by MS,” she added, by email.
Besides Kostan, two Summit residents joined her team — Jessica Wald and Brad Piehl.
“I’m so glad I came,” Kostan said. “It was a beautiful ride. It was motivating; it was really good.”
She plans to bring her husband and children to join in the event next year. Laidlaw is also looking to expand her team for the next go-around.
“My goal is to have 50-75 (people), and have a tent there,” she said. She’s sure she can do it. “Who doesn’t cycle in Summit County?”
Funding advances, and a cure
In addition to raising awareness and being a fun event, Bike MS is a major fundraiser for the National MS Society. With about 3,000 participants this year, the event has raised $3.8 million and counting.
“We have grown the bike ride’s revenue every year,” said Nolan. “It has doubled in revenue in seven years.”
The money comes from teams like Laidlaw’s, “Team Snackshop,” and individual donors. The funds go toward two main goals, Nolan said — supporting local programs and funding medical research.
Local programs include MS Navigators, who are skilled professionals ready to answer any questions related to multiple sclerosis, as well as assist people who need doctor referrals, help understanding insurance coverage or financial aid.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, doesn’t matter how mobile you are,” Nolan said. With 1-800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867), people “are one call away from getting answers.”
On the research side, Nolan said that the National MS Society is investing $50 million this year in research projects, including the 380 projects it’s currently funding worldwide. The majority of the projects are focused on at least one of three objectives — stopping progression of the disease, restoring function that’s been lost and finding a permanent cure.
Two decades ago, Nolan said, patients diagnosed with MS “were told to go home, get your affairs in order and good luck.”
Now, treatment has come a long way, and Laidlaw can attest to that. During most of her years dealing with MS, she has had to take her medicine by injection every day. Just last year, she switched to a new oral medication, which Nolan said is a direct result of National MS Society funding.
This has increased Laidlaw’s dedication to events like Bike MS and she said she’ll participate as much as she can, “because that makes a difference.”
Donations, future events
Although the biking event ended over the weekend, donations can still be made to the teams, including Laidlaw’s, up until Sept. 30.
Summit County will host its own multiple sclerosis benefit on July 26, with the Hike MS event at Keystone Resort.
“It’s a fun, family-destination kind of an event,” said Nolan.
Like the bike ride, the hike offers options of varying difficulty, from an easy 2-mile trip to a 10-mile route, with volunteers and support stations along the way.
“It’s just a great event and especially in Summit County, if people want to come out and do what they might do on a normal weekend hike and make it a benefit for somebody that they might know,” said Nolan.