Saturday morning dawned bright at Copper Mountain, the start to an idyllic summer day. Banners for Hike MS Colorado snapped in the breeze, advertising the event, a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis put on by the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Now in its fourth year, the event drew more than 200 walkers to the start gate at Burning Stone Plaza to follow the winding trail up the mountain. Dogs barked at the end of their leashes and children ran around between groups of adults. Every hiker had a piece of paper with a number pinned to their shirt, and many had pinned tributes to friends and family on the back of their shirts — I’m hiking for my father. For my grandmother. For myself.
This was the first year for Leadville native Vivian Gallegos and her family to participate. Gallegos, who describes herself as “a true Coloradan, a true mountain chick,” was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago. It’s been hard, but being a part of events like Hike MS Colorado allows her to fight the disease in a big-picture sense.
“The reason I wanted to do it is because I wanted to do my part to try to raise money, mainly for research for a cure,” she said. “The money also goes to help the programs that the National MS Society runs, which is another thing that is dear to me.”
The projects Gallegos is referring to include wellness programs, self-help groups, physical therapy sessions and medical research.
“Thank god I’m not at that point where I need assistance, but there are so many out there that need (it),” she added. “Most diagnoses of MS come with a huge financial blow. … Medication-wise, it runs anywhere from $50 to $60,000 a year for your medication. That’s crazy.”
Joining Gallegos on the hike were her family members, including husband, daughters and granddaughter. They came out to support her, but she said she’s also hiking for them, too.
“They say MS isn’t hereditary, but you see more and more signs that it is, and that’s probably the reason I do it (Hike MS), because I’d like to prevent them from getting it.”
Many of the hikers came down from the Front Range to attend the event. Melissa Hart, of Denver, came with her two children and another family. Her husband’s uncle passed away from MS and she has a good friend who was also diagnosed with the disease.
“It’s also a great opportunity to teach our kids about the importance of doing charitable events,” she said. Hart’s family has done Walk MS events in the past and plans to do more in the future.
Summit County locals also showed their support, including Team CrossFit Low Oxygen, representing the gyms owned by David and Brent Tittle in Frisco and Breckenridge.
Team captain Janet Fischer also has a personal connection to the cause — her younger sister.
“My sister got diagnosed with MS a couple years ago and she has had tremendous success with some of the new medications that they have out, and so for me, it’s been an important thing to help fund that research, because if half of those medications hadn’t come out, she might not have had the results she’s had,” Fischer said. Attending events like Hike MS also allow her to help out her sister and others, she added. “There’s only so much I can do with the other part, but I can certainly walk up a hill,” Fischer said with a laugh.
The nine CrossFit team members traveled on two of the three route options, most of them hiking five miles and one member tackling the black diamond ten-mile route. Supporting the event is important for the team, Fischer said.
“As far as the gym itself, we’ve been really fortunate to have been embraced by the community. We have members from all throughout Summit County and one of the things that’s very important to Dave and Brent, the owners, is to be able to give back to the community that’s been so generous to us,” she said. “It’ something that we’re really trying to concentrate on now.”
According to Tricia Williams, community outreach manager for the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the National MS Society, one out of 420 people living in the two-state area is living with multiple sclerosis. It’s a high number, particularly compared to that of other states where the ratio is closer to one in 2,000. Scientists don’t know the reason behind Colorado’s high prevalence of MS diagnoses and are currently conducting research to answer that question, as well as search for a cure. While medicine can be taken to combat symptoms, there is currently no cure for the disease.
That is what people like Fischer, Gallegos and the other event participants hope to change by fundraising. So far, Hike MS Colorado has raised more than $60,000, with fundraising continuing until Sept. 30. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.HikeMSColorado.org.
“The thing that’s really wild about this is I’m normally a pretty shy person,” Gallegos said, “but ever since I have been diagnosed with MS, and I suffer from it greatly, I am trying to do what I can to spread the word and to raise money for research for a cure. So I do hope that there’s a cure within my lifetime. I’d love to see that.”