By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Misty Wensler was shooting hoops for the Oklahoma State University Cowgirls, she was unstoppable on the courts. Standing six feet, two inches in her stocking feet, Wensler could buck any opponent dribbling the ball and galloped through life as an active adult. A bump in the road with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis just found her back in the saddle again — staring down the disease with her new team, the Red Dirt Divas — Nikki Siler, Shelley Siler, Danna Ellis, Susan Young, Ariane Pierce and Annie Collier — who will join Wensler next weekend in cycling historic Route 66 in Bike MS: The Mother Road Ride 2013.
It won’t be a slam dunk for Wensler as she has to monitor her training with MS so she doesn’t heat up her body temperature. She has taken on the 160-mile challenge because it’s personal — and the National MS Society showcases the ride as a fundraiser to make a difference in the lives of those living with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system which interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. 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, affecting more than 2.1 million people worldwide. MS stops people from moving but Wensler said approved drug therapy supported by the National MS Society has made her symptoms go into remission.
“It’s not like they’re going to fix you,” Wensler said. “The medicine just prevents it from getting worse and going forward with your life. I can live with MS — it’s just my quality of life that I’m more aware of. I’m not down and out — people with MS do amazing things.”
She is excited about trying to ride the full 100 miles the first day. On Saturday, the ride will detour off Route 66 and cycle into Stillwater for a lunch break at Stillwater Middle School on Sangre Road.
“The best part about cycling in Stillwater, is it’s a bike friendly town,” Wensler said.
OSU lecturer Matthew Elliott agrees. He will be cycling the Bike MS route for the first time and always appreciates the beauty of rural Payne County. Elliott said it’s not a race and in his inaugural attempt at such a long distance, he will be just trying to finish. The round-trip route through the byways and highways of Central Oklahoma allows cyclists to encounter the nostalgia of the first highway linking the Midwest to the West Coast and “makes your life richer,” Elliott said. Bikers will start in Chandler and make a loop back, spending the night for a celebration and preparing to cross the finish line on Sept. 22.
All cyclists have committed a minimum fundraising pledge of $300 — and it’s not too late to register to get your kicks on Route 66 as organizers said cyclists of all skill levels can make the ride. Visit bikeMSoklahoma.org to register to ride, form a team, volunteer or make a donation. Wensler’s Red Dirt Diva teammates, Danna Ellis and Nikki Siler, rode in Bike MS last year and said the ride is very well supported.
“If you wanted to stop, there is someone along the road who would take you back,” Siler said. “There’s lots of volunteers, support vehicles and checkpoints along the way.”
She recommends wearing comfortable clothes and taking spare bike tire tubes to change a flat if needed.
Wensler plans to make it all the way with her team as she’s been training to go the distance. She has been very humbled by the generosity and hard work of several of her students in Oak Grove schools who have raised funds in support of her team’s ride. Wensler has tried to work out as much a possible so she’ll be able to finish the ride. She supplements her outdoor training with classes at Gym One in Stillwater.
“In staying physically fit, sometimes you get wrapped up in your own personal journey. But together, we’re stronger. Misty did 50 miles with me last weekend,” Siler said. “She’s a trooper. It was a tough blow when she got that diagnosis — but you just wouldn’t know it — she teaches, she’s a mom — and she trains hard with all us Red Dirt Divas. That’s why we’re all riding — with a purpose to draw attention to MS — and help in a small way to make sure Misty keeps moving through life.”