Riding past the symptoms
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit High School diving coach Julie Sutor has always been active but, three years ago, she became even more determined to “get out and play.”
In fall of 2000, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that attacks the nervous system and has no cure.
In the summer of 2001, she rode in the Great-West MS 150 bike tour for the first time and hasn’t missed a year since. This year’s tour begins July 12 in Broomfield and take riders 150 miles to Estes Park and back, while raising money for MS treatment and research.
For Sutor, the ride became a metaphor representing her good health and Carpe Diem mentality.
“It was definitely part of the process,” said Sutor, who is 28. “During that winter (of 2000), I started working with a therapist and talking about coming to terms with the disease and what that meant. As I was working with my therapist on the emotional aspects, I was training for the ride for the first time. It was a parallel path for me. It culminated with that first ride. It really did help me come to grips with having MS. It’s just a blast. Everyone is so positive. It’s really inspiring to be out there taking on that challenge and accomplishing it knowing it’s all for a good cause.”
This year, Sutor and five friends will ride on team Muy Sucio, which, in addition to its abbreviation – MS – means “really dirty” in Spanish.
“It happens to have the letters MS, then we figured, after 150 miles of biking, we’ll probably get pretty dirty,” Sutor said.
In addition to Sutor, Team Muy Sucio includes her boyfriend, John Keefe, and friends Matt Roessner, Heather Bussy, Heidi Knoop and Nicky Galbraith.
Besides riding for Sutor, Galbraith, 26, has another close connection to multiple sclerosis. Her mother was diagnosed with the disease when Galbraith was 13 years old.
“My mom is one of the strongest people I know,” Galbraith said. “She is in Pennsylvania. She’s doing pretty good. She’s up and walking around. She has a lot of pain sometimes – one side of her leg is pretty numb. She had to stop exercising. She would have a hard time (riding the MS 150). But she has the attitude that you shouldn’t dwell on it. She tries to live her life. I’m definitely doing the ride for her and for Julie.”
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which organizes the MS 150 bike tour, there are 6,300 people in Colorado with multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of the illness might be mild – such as a feeling of numbness in the limbs – or as severe as permanent paralysis. The symptoms are unpredictable and – although there have been recent advancements in MS treatment and research – unpreventable.
“I’m pretty fortunate in that I’m doing really well with my medication,” said Sutor, who self-administers a weekly steroid injection in her shoulder. “The symptoms are annoying, but they don’t keep me from skiing and biking and stuff. Every once in a while, my eye will hurt a little bit. It’s definitely frustrating when stuff like that happens, because you don’t know how bad it’s going to be or how long it’s going to last. It is a fear of not knowing what lies ahead. Twenty-five percent of people (with MS) end up in a wheelchair some day.”
Since Sutor’s diagnosis, which coincided with a loss of vision that was restored with intravenous steroid injections during a hospital stay, she has prioritized being an athletic role model as well as an athlete. After becoming the full-time SHS diving coach last fall, she has already seen two of her divers onto the Colorado State Championships.
“It forced me to take inventory of my life and reprioritize a little bit,” she said of her diagnosis. “I’ve prioritized my fitness and reduced my stress by picking a lifestyle where I’m happier and more relaxed. I was doing political organizing (in Boulder) when I was diagnosed. It was fun, but not very relaxing. Moving up to Summit County was a big help because heat exacerbates the symptoms and my symptoms are better up here. But when I was organizing, everything I did was centered around students and making a difference and an impact on the world. I really missed the community involvement, so working with the high school students is good for me. Being seen as a role model in general is great. Athletically, it reaffirmed that this disease wasn’t going to control my life.”
Last year, 2,536 cyclists on the tour raised $1,802,412 toward MS research and treatment. This year, each cyclist must raise $300 in pledges.
Muy Sucio has been doing weekly training rides of varying distances to prepare for the July 12 ride and will be conducting a fundraiser at Barkley’s in Frisco Wednesday.
MS 150 Bike Tour fundraiser
Bike team Muy Sucio will be raising money to benefit multiple sclerosis treatment and research at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Barkley’s in Frisco. The evening includes $2 microbrews, door prizes and hip hop spins by DJ Brian Baker. Suggested donation is $5 at the door.
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at email@example.com.
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