If you’ve ever taken part in Hinton’s annual MS Mountain Bike tour, then you’ll recognize the voice of Suzanne Deschamps.
Deschamps became the tour’s spokesperson in 2004 and has been dedicated ever since to encourage and cheer on the participants throughout their ride.
“They encourage me to carry on and keep going because the MS is getting worse and worse for me. I used to ride and now I’m having trouble walking so they encourage me when I see them and I know I encourage them because they’ve seen me the past 14 years,” she said.
Some of the long time riders have seen how her MS has deteriorated over the years but also how their fundraising has helped her quality of life. She added that half the money raised through the bike tour goes to research, while the other half goes into services to help people suffering with MS.
Deschamps was diagnosed with MS in 1992 but stayed active until around 2011. She can still walk and stand with the help of her walker, but mostly uses an electric scooter to get around. She also takes advantage of her local pool to help her stay active.
“I think they put a face to MS when they see me,” she added about the bike tour participants.
When she first got involved in the MS Bike tour she rode the challenging 45 kilometres mostly uphill trail from Hinton to Kelley’s Bathtub. The second time she decided to attempt the downhill portion from Kelley’s Bathtub to Hinton, which still includes some uphill. Her parents waited at the finish line for her, which was a special moment for them.
She gave up riding in 2005 after hitting a concrete block on the trail, but throughout her involvement she raised more than $14,000.
“I don’t ride anymore but I’m up there every year, my husband and I. It’s amazing. Some of the riders have texted me and called me over the last two weeks and asked me if I’m coming up to cheer them on,” she said.
The MS Mountain Bike Tour Hinton is in its 21st year and organizers expect around 300 cyclists. Each year, they raise around $300,000 and to date the Hinton tour has raised more than $5 million since 1999. Riders are required to have a minimum fundraising amount of $350 in order to ride.
“I always say that raising the money is the tough part, but the ride is the reward,” said Deschamps.
MS Bike Tour manager, Nicole Gasior, added that this tour isn’t ideal for beginner riders.
“It’s a bit of a mix, gravel trails and regular trails. Mix of single tracks and switchbacks. Some roots and rocks, that’s the most technical aspects of ride,” said Gasior.
Extra grip and grind challenges are incorporated into each day for the more experienced riders. The ride also includes some beautiful viewpoints and a few cyclists like to end day one by jumping right into the lake at Kelley’s Bathtub for a cool down, said Gasior. When riders hear the voice of Descamps booming through her megaphone at Kelley’s bathtub they know Day One is over.
A dinner for all participants follows at the Hinton Centre on Saturday evening, including a speech from Deschamps.
“Being a spokesperson for the event is just an honour, to see everybody there and know that they’re all working towards one goal and that’s to end MS,” said Deschamps.
She hopes to spread awareness of how prevalent the disease is and knowledge of how many people it affects in different ways.
“MS is known as Canada’s disease and Alberta has one of the highest rates of MS. Every single day we have 11 people diagnosed with MS, that’s a massive amount of Canadians,” added Gasior.
Registration for the bike tour will stay open until the morning of the ride. Cyclists take off from the Hinton Friendship Centre at 9 am and cycle back the following day.
To register or donate go to mssoc.convio.net, click on MS Bike, and find the Hinton location.