POULSBO — They wore their hearts on their sleeves and on their backs — hand-lettered signs that told the world why they were marching in the April 8 Walk MS: Poulsbo.
“I’m walking for my dad.”
“I’m walking for my sister.”
“I’m walking for Susie.”
“I’m walking for ME.”
Despite a biting south wind that curried whitecaps on Liberty Bay and pushed the wind chill factor down into the 30s, about 300 people gathered at 10 a.m. Saturday morning at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park in Poulsbo to walk the 1.5-mile course and show their commitment to defeating Multiple Sclerosis.
This marked the first year for this event, which united Walk MS: Bainbridge Island and Walk MS: Kitsap County into one event.
The march raised about $35,000, according to Adriana Johnson, the National MS Society director in charge of the event.
“This is great for our first year here,” she said. Nationally, the money helps fund MS research. Locally, it helps support self-help groups in Kitsap County and provides programs teaching resilience and living well with MS.
About 35 volunteers helped with the march, handling reservations, providing directions at strategic points along the course and handing out refreshments, Johnson said.
One of those volunteers was Alicia Chubb, who helped in the food area. She and three other volunteers had been there since well before 8 a.m., setting up the food stand in the park and getting ready to hand out 600 bananas, 414 energy bars, 288 bottles of water and many, many gallons of hot coffee. (The latter was particularly popular even among non-coffee drinkers. The paper cups of hot coffee made great hand warmers.)
“My dad and sister have MS,” Chubb said. “This is my fifth year as an MS volunteer.”
The first aid tent — provided by corporate sponsor Kaiser Permanente and staffed by Carol Rappaport, MD, and Beth Belgarde, RN, from Kaiser Permanente’s Poulsbo clinic — was a favorite place to get out of the wind and get warmed up, too.
But for most marchers, concerns about the weather appeared to take second place to their passion to take part in a fight against a disease that had touched friends and loved ones in their lives.
Entire families participated. Take, for example, the Plake family, nattily attired in orange jester’s caps. John pushed his wife Lynn’s wheelchair, accompanied by their daughter, Jennifer, and their dog, Indy, who was catching a ride in Lynn’s lap.
Many of the marchers were on teams. And each team’s name held special meaning for its members.
Perhaps the granddaddy of all the teams was “Team Lisagor,” named after Trudi Lisagor, who was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago. She and her husband, Michael, organized the Bainbridge Island MS Walk and ran it for 10 years, raising a total of $950,000 for their efforts. This year, the Kitsap County and Bainbridge Island walks have combined and Michael, for one, couldn’t be happier.
“It was great to be able to sleep in this year and not have to be here until 8:30 a.m.,” he said.
The fact that they weren’t organizing didn’t mean Team Lisagor wasn’t still fundraising: the team raised $6,000 for this year’s walk.
“Team C’estas” from Bremerton was one of the bigger teams. They had a tent and brought 30 or so people to walk the walk.
“The name is a contraction of my late father’s name, ‘Charles,’ and my mom’s, ‘Esther,’ and because MS makes you tired and you want to take a nap,” said Pam Campbell, who, along with Joyce Buell, were the team’s leaders. “My mom and dad helped sponsor a team years ago.”
“Team Handit2u,” another Bremerton team, also had about 30 walkers. Its team leader was Monica Wood, MD, who was a hand surgeon. She was diagnosed with MS in 2012 and had to give up surgery two years later.
“My dad had MS. I have MS,” she said.
“Grouch’s Groupies” — also a Bremerton team — took the approach that laughter is the best medicine. The team was named for James “The Grouch” Jacobi, according to his wife, Rhonda. A motorcycle rider, he was diagnosed with MS seven years ago. He and his wife marched in their first MS Walk two months later, she said.
Today, Jacobi is still taking part in MS marches, and he still looks like a biker with his heavy beard and black leather vest with patches. But on Saturday, he was riding a wheel chair.
Despite his best efforts to look like a grouch, there was a mischievous glint in his eye and his team’s tent was dedicated to life and laughter, complete with an activity table for children.
Team Dragonfly/Forest Ridge brought smiles, too, as they entertained the crowd (and tried to stay warm) by dancing to the music coming over the pavilion sound system.
“I think it’s wonderful to bring communities together for a wonderful cause,” said Maddy Miller, who has been member of Team Lisagor for the past 10 years.
But behind the determination and optimism lurked the knowledge that, while MS affects everyone differently, there is no cure and it can be fatal — which is why the research and programs are so badly needed.
The nine members of Team Susie from Port Ludlow understood that very well. They had raised $4,750 and were walking in memory of the late Susie Vicino, who passed away from MS last year, according to her husband, Felix. Posters honoring her memory their tent, signed by those whose lives she had touched and who missed her so much.