By Maddy Vitale
Jennifer Schmidt, of Mays Landing, knows she has a daily battle. After being diagnosed with MS in 2010, the 55-year-old married mother of two, did one thing.
“I cried,” she said Sunday before the start of Ocean City’s MS Walk. “And then I tried to deal with it. Back when I was first diagnosed, I had fatigue really bad. I still feel fatigued but with medication it isn’t as bad.”
Determined to continue her fight against MS, Schmidt and her husband, Larry, joined with hundreds of others on the Ocean City Boardwalk to take part in the annual MS Walk. Since 2012, they have participated in MS walks in different communities. This was their second consecutive year doing the walk in Ocean City.
Schmidt said what helps her get through her incurable disease is the support of her family and maintaining a positive attitude.
“I feel very fortunate I am not worse off than I am,” she said, adding that there are varying degrees of the disease. “They say MS is like a snowflake. No two snowflakes are alike and no two people with MS are alike.”
She was surrounded by her team, “Jen’s Jewels,” which consisted of family and friends wearing bright orange leis and funny headbands.
“I don’t know how I got the name. It just came to me,” said Schmidt, who had a continuous smile.
Larry Schmidt said it has been a difficult journey.
“It has been challenging at times as the caregiver,” he said. “Jen’s been the strong one. She can handle it.”
He described the current situation in which the MS has “stabilized.”
“We are in a happy place, but it can change at any time,” he said. “Right now, at least, she is doing definitely better than before.”
Daughter Krista Schmidt, 23, lives at home and sees the affects of the disease daily.
“It is tough sometimes. Sometimes she is exhausted,” Krista Schmidt said. “We try to help out as much as we can and be a good support system.”
Like the Schmidts, hundreds of other people dedicated to the fight against MS poured into the Sports & Civic Center at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk on a rainy Sunday to raise money to help with research and medical services.
Approximately 824 people signed up for Ocean City’s MS Walk. According to the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that “disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.”
The cause remains unknown, although researchers suspect the disease is triggered by an unidentified environmental factor in a person who is genetically predisposed to MS.
Nicole Lewis, Ocean City MS Walk organizer and associate vice president of Bike MS, said, “It’s so great to see so many people raising money to provide for life-saving services for people with MS and cutting-edge research for a cure.”
Al Deritis, the top fundraiser for Bike MS City to Shore, signed a banner inside the Sports & Civic Center, along with his daughter, Mia, of Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
“My wife Renee has MS bad. We are here to support her,” Deritis said of his MS Walk team “Renee’s Riders”
People trickled out of the center and made their way to the Boardwalk, wearing ponchos and holding umbrellas as the rains pelted the boards. There were nearly 20 teams that participated in the event.
One team, made up of family and friends, was there to support Courtney McDowell, of Millville, wearing “Made to Survive” shirts.
McDowell’s aunt, Stacy Arsenis, of Linwood, said, “The whole family comes out to support her. It is surprising that it affects all ages.”
McDowell, 35, along with her husband, Shawn McDowell, and their children Jade, 10, and Blake, 8, never miss the annual event.
“My son skipped his baseball game to be here today,” she said.
McDowell was diagnosed with MS three years ago.
“I was really sick. I went to a lot of appointments,” she said. “I had MRIs, blood work and it all led to six months of wondering what was wrong.”
Then she got the diagnosis: MS.
She added, “I have fatigue still, but I have been much better with medication – knock on wood.”