When Thomas Hash was asked what his personal connection to multiple sclerosis (MS) was, the answer was simple. He was inspired by Don Fraser of Blacksburg, founder of the website BiketheUSforMS.org.
“I met Don in Blacksburg when I was a student at Virginia Tech,” said Hash. “His passion and his drive just makes you want to help out.”
Fraser, whose mother has suffered from MS his whole life, decided to start the website, BiketheUSforMS.org.
“I was sitting in my college apartment in Blacksburg wondering what I was gonna do after college. I decided, like Thomas, to bike across America,” said Fraser, who said he bought a URL and took an HTML course where he “essentially learned how to center a donation button onto a page.”
Hash was named RIDESolutions’ 2014 “Bike Hero,” for building a cycling culture in Pulaski County, and has cycled across the country once before, so it’s no surprise to many that he’s at it again.
“A lot of folks who do bike tours do it for a cause – medical, nonprofit, church,” said Hash. “When I cycled in 2012, I did it just because then I realized all the energy, time and following could have gone to a good cause.” Now he is preparing to cycle across the country again, this time for a cause – MS.
According to nationalmssociety.org, “More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because symptoms can be completely invisible, the prevalence of MS in the U.S. can only be estimated.”
Fraser said the goal of the organization is to keep people with MS moving and independent, and that they fund ramps, handicap bathrooms, trikes, or anything to help people remain independent.
Hash, who will set out on the Southern Tier route of the tour this year, says he will begin in St. Augustine, Fla., and continue to San Diego, Calif., at a pace of 65 miles a day, depending on weather and head winds. Hash said he has made several connections through the organization and has already had four people offer to host him on the route.
Hash said seeing the world from that perspective, 65 miles a day, seven miles an hour, is like no other feeling. He said when he travels across the country on a bicycle he often stays in grassy lots, peoples’ homes, and even city parks.
“A lot of city parks are used to cyclists and have public showers and cyclists-only camping areas set aside,” said Hash. “A lot of churches open their doors, pantries, and fellowship (to cyclists). Like the Methodist church next door.”
Hash said he has camped behind places similar to The Junction at Draper Mercantile, where he works as the manager. He also mentioned a website called warmshowers.org, run by a community of touring cyclists who open their homes, churches and other structures to cyclists who are passing through.
Hash said he ended up with his current position with The Junction as a result of his being a host to a cyclist from North Korea, further explaining the connections he’s made thanks to cycling.
“My last trip was a trip west, and I was gonna stay,” said Hash, explaining he was ready for a change of pace, wanted to work in the bicycle industry.
“The more small towns I cycled through, I realized this place has everything I was looking for,” said Hash of his decision to keep his roots in the New River Valley.He said it took him seeing the world from his bike to realize this little part of it had everything he was looking for.
Fraser said the first year the organization raised $20,000.
“The power of the Internet got more people involved,” said Fraser. “What Thomas is doing here is really awesome.”
But how does one get involved, especially if they are not already a cyclist?
“Cycling is not this elite athlete thing, anyone can do it,” said Hash. “I’ve seen 55-year-olds decide to buy a bike, and a few weeks into it, they’re fit.”
“What’s going on here seems like a really great place to get started,” said Fraser of The Junction and The New River Trail. “Probably most of the residents don’t even know how special a place like this is to cyclists passing through.”
Fraser said the funds raised so far through the website have been very inspirational.
“Growing up it was difficult for my parents to do stuff like yard work, or cleaning the house,” said Fraser, who said there is lots of money donated to research, but that his organization doesn’t raise a huge amount of money, saying this year they raised about $300,000. But Fraser says those funds could go towards the purchase of about 100 ramps to assist people with MS.
Fraser encourages people, especially those affected by MS, to get involved in the community.
“There’s a lot of people out there kind of being quiet about it, and they’re really isolated,” he said.
Fraser is a member of the board of trustees for the Virginia division of the National MS Society, and he said lots of funding is raised in the city, and it stays there, and he says the direct financial assistance program is being cut. However, Fraser said there are plenty of resources available through the MS Society that people don’t even know about. It’s just a matter of finding them.
For more information on how to get involved or how to donate to the cause, visit BiketheUSforMS.org and like them on Facebook; email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 201-503-6367 or mail inquiries to PO Box 10001 Blacksburg, Va. 24062.