Oak Harbor's Team Navy pedals for multiple sclerosis
August 31, 2012 · Updated 5:11 PM
By Susan Mador
Special to the News-Times
Completing a team bike ride always feels great: physical effort is over, leaving fond memories, and perhaps sore muscles. When Team Navy members cross the finish line at Bike MS on Sept. 9, they will have memories, and sore muscles. They will also know their efforts will affect their friends, family and strangers for years.
Team Navy members will join 2,000 other riders at Bike MS to work together towards a cure for multiple sclerosis. MS is a chronic, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system and as the disease progresses it can perplex doctors because its severity and its symptoms vary from person to person.
In Island County, 141 people have identified themselves as living with MS. It is estimated that every hour of every day, across the country, someone new is diagnosed with MS.
The two-day ride kicks off Saturday, Sept. 8, at Skagit Valley Fairgrounds in Mount Vernon. The ride finishes Sunday, Sept. 9, also at the fairgrounds.
Sharon Dodge and Jim Jaeger, co-captains of Team Navy, are living with MS.
Dodge’s husband, Bill, started Team Navy when he was stationed at the Pentagon in 2006. Team Navy debuted at the Greater Washington Bike MS ride in 2008 when the Dodge family returned to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and the Oak Harbor community. Dodge’s father was a Navy pilot and later flew for American Airlines when he was diagnosed with MS “in the prime of his life,” says Dodge. Her father had an extremely progressive form of the disease and passed away at the young age of 48. It was only eight years after his death that Dodge herself received the devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
“Locally, team Navy has consistently been one of the larger friends and family Bike MS teams, topping out at 23 team members and raising an impressive $141,591.67 since joining the Ride in 2006,” Patty Shepherd-Barnes, president of the Greater Northwest Chapter, said in a press release.
“Bike MS fundraising plays an integral part in the support of the local MS community, as well as helps fund international MS research initiatives.”
Since Team Navy’s involvement began in 2006, event fundraising has helped bring about several new MS medications including the first orally taken disease modifying therapy. Locally, Team Navy’s fundraising also helps support people living with or affected by MS through financial assistance, peer support, education, or “one of the many other programs and services offered through the society,” Shepherd-Barnes added.
Jaeger was diagnosed with MS in October 2007; a few years later in the fall, he met Sharon Dodge at a church outing. The next spring he was training for Bike MS as a Team Navy rider.
Jaeger grew up a fourth-generation islander; today, he and wife Michelle raise their family here. Jaeger is a heavy equipment operator-foreman for Krieg Construction. He describes living with MS as having days of fatigue and times of making adjustments to schedules, slowing down and knowing his limits.
“I’ve been more fortunate than a lot of people (who have MS),” he said “My medication is working; I’ve had no full blown attacks.”
He knows his limitations and counts himself lucky to work for Krieg Construction which he says has been great at making adjustments to schedules, plus understanding there are physical parts of the job he won’t attempt.
Jaeger is taking no chances in bringing on an attack. In years past, Jaeger enjoyed rigorous snowmobiling, but that hobby has been dropped.
“It could be MS or my knees,” Jaeger said. “Or it could be I’m 50.”
Jaeger realizes that MS is a progressive disease and feels fortunate it is not progressing very quickly for him. When asked about his hopes and aspirations he said he would “keep going as long as I can, which is all anyone can do.”
Since being active is a major part of keeping MS at bay, Jaeger chose bike riding. He tries to ride a 10-mile loop three times a week, depending on weather. On weekends he will head from his north Oak Harbor home to Coupeville.
“I ride for myself as a challenge and to help others with MS,” he said.
Jaeger plans on riding 60 miles Sept. 8 and 50 miles Sept. 9.
“I’ve experienced enough pain, numbness and fatigue (all classic MS symptoms) and fought enough emotional battles, that when I can put air in the tires and climb onto the seat, I am grateful to do my part to help those with MS,” he said.
“Riding more than 100 miles in two days is nowhere as difficult as confronting a lifetime with MS.”
As the miles disappear beneath his tires, he enjoys meeting other riders and learning how MS has affected their lives.
Before and after the ride, cyclists gather in Rider Village to meet, greet and relax. Sharon Dodge said she has made so many friends and met so many people through the disease that “Bike MS is like a big family reunion.”
Jaegar echoes the statement about family. Recently, riders and their families were asked to decorate bandanas to put in rider registration packets. Jaeger’s daughter Gina wrote about her father being diagnosed three days before her 11th birthday.
“It has become a family thing,” Gina wrote, “We discuss and work together. Our family has bonded together to fight for a cure.”
“Some lucky rider will open their packet and find that to wear,” her father said.
At the end of the second day, all Team Navy riders meet at a location a few miles from Skagit Valley Fairgrounds before crossing the finish line together as a team.
Jim Jaegar’s parents, Chuck and Gail, always stand at the finish line and cheer as their son and Dodge lead Team Navy in.
To support Team Navy, please visit their website at www.teamnavy.org.