Mount Holly woman’s fight with MS inspires bike team

by Courtney Price

Shelley DiDonato, left, and Terry Carter sign bandanas that the Blood, Sweat and Gears team will wear on their bike ride to the coast. (Courtney Price/MIM photo)

Shannon Fosdick of Mount Holly was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis less than a year ago, in December 2010.
The 30-year-old woman was at work one day when she started having strange symptoms. Her coworkers thought she was having a stroke.
Her left eye stopped blinking. The left side of her face grew paralyzed. She had numbness in her limbs, and within three days she was having lightning-like pains throughout her body. She said doctors told her she might have been hit with such severity because of stress and because she initially ignored some of the symptoms.
“I don’t go to the doctor every time something’s wrong,” Fosdick said. “I’ve never been like that – until now.”
The diagnosis brought with it some major life changes. She now takes daily medications and injections, and she’s a lot more aware of weakness
“It’s changed my life to help me have a closer walk with God,” she said. “By this, my faith is tested. I get strength every day just by getting up and having an extra day to move and go to work and be that woman that God’s called me to be.”
Fosdick said sometimes people take months or years to accept it once they’re diagnosed.
“I just embraced it. This is what my life is, but I don’t let MS define me as a person. I’m still the same person I was a year ago. I just have an extra challenge in my life. We face our own battles every day. I can’t let it get me down.”
Fosdick, who grew up in Denver and now lives in Mount Holly, works at Advanced Eye Care. She said many people slow down after they’re diagnosed, but she wants to continue to care for her husband Richard and four-year-old son, Caydan, like they’ve supported her.
“When we were coming back from Chapel Hill after I was diagnosed, my husband said ‘Sometimes in life we don’t understand things we’re faced with on a daily basis and just have to accept it,’” she said. “Some of my family members don’t understand why – why me? – but I just look at it as this is one extra step I have to do in my life.
“I think it can not only make me a better person, but I can also reach out to other people and let them know there’s hope, regardless of what obstacle we’re faced with.”

A fulfilling journey

Fosdick is one of many MS sufferers who have inspired the Denver-based Blood, Sweat and Gears bike team to complete a 200-mile bike ride from Charlotte to the North Carolina coast.
Last year, a handful of local bike riders signed up for the race because they wanted to prove that they could do it.
“This started out as a bucket list item for me. But 200 miles is a long way,” said team co-captain Darriel Dellinger. “The second day you start to think ‘What in the world am I doing this for?’”
They raised the $300 per person to compete, but didn’t do much more than that. When they arrived for the start of the two-day event, they realized they were doing it for the wrong reason.
Sitting at the check-in table was a woman with a big smile and a big heart – Shelley DiDonato, a volunteer with multiple sclerosis.
The Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach event draws hundreds of bikers out to ride from Monroe to Sunset Beach, and the money raised from the two-day event and year-long fundraising efforts benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and MS research.
Dellinger recalled his first ride last year. After going for miles, he was about ready to give up. His friends helped him stick with it.
“They said, ‘You ain’t quitting. You remember the look on that lady’s face? Come on, let’s go.”
And they did it.
When they got back home, Dellinger and others on the team rethought their involvement in the Bike MS event. They kicked off a full-scale fundraising effort for this year’s event, and as of Sept. 29, the team had raised $24,495. The group has until Oct. 28 to met their goal of $1 million.
DiDonato, who lives in Statesville, attended a kickoff event held in Stanley by the Blood, Sweat and Gears team with her friend Terry Carter, who also has MS. The riders left Monroe Sept. 24 and arrived at their destination the following day.
“It was hard, as always, but very fulfilling,” Dellinger said. “It was just a huge team effort.”
Fosdick said she’s been so thankful for the Blood, Sweat and Gears team and their efforts to help those with multiple sclerosis.
“Every mile that they complete is a closer step for a cure,” she said. “It’s hard to do a full race, and it’s hard to push yourself. And for them to do that, it’s just awesome.”

MS hit home

Dellinger and his teammates had met several people with MS during last year’s event, and he said it was inspiring to have a face on the cause.
But as they strengthened their efforts for the second year, team members found that MS was a lot closer than they thought.
Allison Elliot, of Maiden, shared at the event’s kickoff event how MS became real to her.
When she first found out about the ride, she was intimidated by the length of the journey.
Then she learned that her friend, Fosdick, had recently been diagnosed with MS.
“There was no question. God made me sign up for this team, and I found out why. It was to help Shannon,” Elliot said.
She asked Fosdick if she could share her story with her teammates.
“I told them, ‘Every mile I complain, hit me in the head and remind me that I’m riding for Shannon,’” Elliot said. “Because with MS you have to be a very strong person – a lot stronger than just riding a bicycle.
“Shannon, MS hit our community when we knew that you had it. We want to help you and we want to keep you in mind,” Elliot told Fosdick during the kickoff.
She welcomed Fosdick to lean on the team when she needs it. “I depend on them every time I ride a bike,” Elliot said. “These people are the best people in the world.”

Some facts about multiple sclerosis
• MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
• Different people are likely to experience very different symptoms.
• MS is different from muscular dystrophy, which is a group of disorders that cause progressive and irreversible wasting away of muscle tissue. Though the two have some symptoms in common, such as weakness and problems with walking, muscular dystrophy affects the muscles directly while multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system.
• MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited.
• Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
• The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled.
• There are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to reduce the number of relapses and modify or slow down the underlying course of MS.
– from the National MS Society

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