By BILL BARLOW
After a cool morning for the start in Cherry Hill, it was unequivocally hot on the other side of the state by Saturday afternoon, where the 75-mile MS City to Shore Ride ended near the Boardwalk in Ocean City.
By early afternoon, riders were pouring over the Route 52 Causeway, where one traffic lane had been reserved for bicyclists. At the foot of the bridge, Ocean City Police periodically blocked traffic for the bikes to make a left for the final stretch to the finish line at Fifth Street behind Ocean City High School.
Thousands participated in the race, which has become a September tradition in the seaside resort.
The race raised more than $5 million for multiple sclerosis, which organizers say affects close to a million Americans, and about 50,000 people in the Tri-state area.
The money from the ride goes to research, advocacy and for projects assisting those with MS.
Several riders said Saturday was the best weather they’d seen for the ride, without much wind in their faces and clear blue skies.
“It was a little chilly this morning. It always is this time of year,” said Rodney Ciafre of Chester County, Pa., relaxing in the shade after the long ride.
He said traffic wasn’t bad and he was riding with a good group.
Many participate in the ride as part of a team. In his case, it was Gergo’s Gear Shifters.
Ciafre said there is not much competition to win the race or to beat a time, although most riders are determined to finish. The competition comes in who can raise the most to help people with MS.
“I had a banner year,” he said.
Fellow members of his local Rotary Club chipped in. One club member put in a large donation in honor of his wife who died of MS last year. The club also gave a sizable grant, he said.
Sitting nearby was John O’Neill of Aston, Pa., whose friend pointed out that he rode with a broken hand. He hurt himself a couple of weeks before the ride, he said, but was not willing to take a year off after people pledged money for his ride.
“I felt an obligation to do this,” O’Neill said.
This was his 27th ride, he said.
For the first time, he jumped in the ocean after the ride, which ends close to the beach.
He said the water felt great, at about 70 degrees.
O’Neill did make some allowance for his injury. He started at the 45-mile mark in Hammonton, unsure of how his hand would feel after the ride. It was a little sore but pretty good, he said.
There are also options for a 25-mile ride or a 100-mile route. Many ride back the 75 miles on Sunday.
There were some first-time riders in the crowd as well. This was Coatesville, Pa., resident John Humenick’s first time participating.
“I needed to train more,” he said.
Humenick was at the rookie booth, picking up a few gifts on display. He said he’s a runner and made a deal with a friend. They would do the ride, often called the MS 150, and then return to Ocean City for the half-marathon next weekend.
He said they are often in Ocean City.
The ride was tougher than he planned, he said. But he added that he welcomed the reminder.
“It’s a good challenge, because when people are sick, they have their own challenges to deal with” Humenick said.
Many of the riders have friends or relatives struggling with MS, but others have no direct connection with someone with the disease. A few said they did not know anyone personally who has been diagnosed with MS when they started riding, but over the years they got to know people.
Friends and family were at the finish line to greet many of the riders. Sarah Dillard of north Philadelphia was ready to cheer on her husband, Frederick Tate, who has become a regular participant in the event since his first ride several years ago.
He loves to participate in the rides, she said, and rides in other events as well.
The website of the National MS Society showed there were 5,786 registered participants, with the most recent posted tally showing $4.28 million raised.
According to Jeff Craighead, the City to Shore event is the second largest in the country. On June 13, he and his wife, Pam Craighead, addressed the Ocean City Council to thank the city for its continued participation and to talk about how the money is spent.
“Pam is the reason I ride,” he said. She was diagnosed with MS 25 years ago. Pam Craighead said she is not the typical picture of an MS patient.
For long distances, she may use her cane, and about once a month she spends two hours getting an infusion.
In that time, Pam Craighead said, “I see a spectrum of levels that breaks my heart.’
She added of the ride and fundraising effort, “This benefits people so much.”
Jeff Craighead said in addition to supporting research on potential treatments, including the infusion his wife receives, the money helps research what diet and exercise helps patients, and can help fund grants for ramps to allow access to homes.