In 2011, Beth Donaldson, mother of two and wife of a police SWAT officer, was busy with work and the day-to-day life of raising two children. She knew a little bit about MS, after watching her paternal grandfather and two paternal aunts deal with the disease. But as she neared her 41st birthday, she thought she was safe from its clutches - most patients are diagnosed in their twenties to fifties, but the average age of onset is lower, at 34.
All that changed when, at 40, she was diagnosed with relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis. The fourth in her family to be diagnosed, Donaldson says at least she knew what to expect. “Today, you know, they have drugs to help,” she says. “When my grandfather was diagnosed, they didn’t have anything.”
Beth, her husband Mike, and their two children at a Bike MS event
Not without a fight
Not one to give up without a fight, Donaldson said she continued to work full-time while pursuing treatments. But in 2015, after her first hip replacement surgery due to osteoarthritis caused by the multiple sclerosis, she said it just got too hard. “My HR department actually recommended I look into disability,” she laughs. “In a nice way.” Between all the doctor’s appointments, tests, the surgery and the recovery, working just wasn’t an option anymore. So she went on short-term disability through her employer, then applied for Social Security disability. She now lives on Social Security disability to help her with her MS treatments, which can run up a steep bill. But Donaldson considers herself lucky. “A lot of people can’t afford the treatments.”
That’s just one reason, in 2015, she and her husband Mike started Living MS, a certified 501(c)3 charity focused on raising money for MS research and awareness. Mike, who has participated in Bike MS for the last 6 years, first conceived the charity as a way to help Donaldson stay busy once she went on full-time disability. Since then, the Donaldsons have raised around $20,000 in grassroots fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society - mostly by sharing on Facebook and fundraising during Mike’s Bike MS rides.
Beth and Mike after one of his races
Rebel with a cause
This year, Donaldson decided it was time to do something new. “I want to think outside of the box,” she says, “donate a little differently.” So the Donaldsons and Living MS are hosting their own bike ride up in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Called Gravel de Loco, the ride will start and end in the town of Purcellville, Virginia. They’ll offer a 25- and a 50-mile loop, and riders will be required to raise at least $100 to ride. Post-race, riders will receive a t-shirt and BBQ. The race will take place on October 21, 2017.
It should be noted that this is just a few weeks after Donaldson’s planned second hip replacement surgery. Thanks to the osteoarthritis, she has the bones of an 80-year old. “But that’s autoimmune,” she says. “It’s not uncommon to have more than one autoimmune disease.” When asked if she’ll be ready for the race, Donaldson chuckles. “I guess so!” she says. “But we’ll see.”
Beth rocking her Living MS shirt and an MS awareness headband
Long live the orange ribbon
Ultimately, Living MS and the Donaldsons want to help raise awareness about MS and other autoimmune diseases, and potentially contribute to research into the tie between MS and genetics (it’s currently not known whether there is a hereditary component of MS). But they’re also interested in helping those who can’t afford their treatment be able to pay for it.
“Maybe one day, the orange ribbon will be as recognizable as the pink breast cancer ribbon,” says Donaldson. “That’s the goal.”
We think it’s a pretty admirable one.