By Donald Wittkowski
Thousands of bicyclists crossing the finish line Saturday in the MS City to Shore Ride were greeted by a woman holding an orange sign with two words written in black letters: “Thank you.”
The sign seemed like a simple expression of gratitude, but for Trish Repetski, it conveyed a very powerful message.
To her, it symbolized the efforts of so many people who have banded together in the fight against multiple sclerosis, an incurable, often disabling disease that disrupts the central nervous system.
“It brings a tear to my eye to see them finish,” Repetski, her voice choking with emotion, said of the bikers. “Sometimes, they have tears in their eyes, too.”
On Saturday, it was the fifth straight year that the 56-year-old Repetski, of Fairless Hills, Pa., held the “Thank you” sign. Riders passing by her on Fifth Street heading to the finish line at the Ocean City Boardwalk often gave her a thumbs-up or a wave in a show of appreciation.
The emotional exchanges between Repetski and the cyclists were among many poignant moments during the annual MS bike ride, a major fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. An estimated 7,000 bikers were expected to raise more than $6 million in the ride from Cherry Hill to Ocean City.
Repetski did not ride, but was part of the “Raising Caine” team that supported her friend, Mike Caine, a Levittown, Pa., resident who has MS.
“It’s the least we can do for him,” Repetski said of Caine.
Some bikers participated in teams while other cyclists simply rode on their own. The event gave riders a choice of route options that ranged from 25 to 180 miles, taking them along the scenic back roads of South Jersey to the Jersey Shore.
David Bucher, 67, a retired mailman from Philadelphia, said he has been riding in the event for 38 years in a row. On Saturday, he dedicated his ride in memory of two friends who died this past year.
One of Bucher’s friends had MS, while the other had cancer. Bucher had the name of one friend, whom he identified only as Kathy, written on an arm band that he wore during the ride.
“I really don’t know if I’m making a difference,” Bucher said of his longtime participation in the fight against MS.
But then he paused for a moment and added, “Just the fact that I’m here, I think that I am making a difference.”
Karen Meyers, an MS Society volunteer, said she believed Bucher and all of the other cyclists made a huge contribution toward efforts to conquer the disease.
“It’s very comforting. These people are doing the hardest part, and they’re doing it for people like me,” said Meyers, who has MS. “I appreciate it so much. It means a lot to me.”
Meyers, 47, of Southampton, Pa., personally thanked the bikers as they signed a tent wall that allowed them to write tributes to friends and family members who have MS.
At one point, Meyers and Bucher gave each other a big hug.
“You rode for me. Thank you,” Meyers exclaimed as Bucher smiled in return.
This year’s MS ride was the first time that cyclists entered Ocean City via the Route 52 Causeway, the main gateway into town. Previously, they had used the Ocean City-Longport Bridge as their entry point. The route was changed at the request of the MS Society to make it easier and safer for bikers to enter Ocean City.
Ocean City police officers were stationed along the entry route to protect the cyclists and direct traffic.
Sgt. Brian Hopely, of the police department’s Traffic Safety Unit, noted that 25 officers were specifically assigned to the ride. Volunteers from the city’s Community Emergency Response Team supplemented the police for crowd control. Other officers were on normal duty across the city, representing a major commitment by the police department throughout Saturday.
“Everything is moving along smoothly,” Hopely said as the first waves of MS riders began hitting the finish line late in the morning.