When Michelle Golberg steps out for this year's Walk MS, she won't be alone. The MS Dream Team, two dozen family and friends of her mother and cousin, both of whom have multiple sclerosis, will accompany her.
Golberg believes the effort made and the money raised benefits research on MS, if not to find a cure for the disease of the central nervous system, then to come up with treatment options that ameliorate the often debilitating symptoms.
"Both sides of the family are involved. It's great to have so many people coming together, to walk with me," said Golberg, 30, a Timonium resident. , She has walked in MS benefits for the last nine years, the last two for the National MS Society, Maryland Chapter. Last year, the MS Dream Team raised about $8,000, with Golberg herself accounting for almost $1,300.
This year's Annual Walk MS will be held on Sunday, April 12 at Hunt Valley Towne Centre, off Interstate 83, with registration at 8 a.m. and the walk at 9 a.m. The walk will wend its way from the shopping area of the outdoor mall to Bonnie Blink, the Maryland Masonic Home.
This is a new venue for the walk. For the past two years, it was held on the campus of Goucher College, where it was called the Towson MS Walk.
Organizers are hoping the Hunt Valley site will be more accessible and convenient and, with plenty of free parking, attract even more walkers than past events. This year's walk goal is 1,500 participants and $160,000, said Golberg, a member of the Hunt Valley MS Walk Committee.
Golberg was 13 when her mother, Marilynn Cohen, of Owings Mills, told her and her sister that she had MS.
"She'd had it for some time but she was having a relapse and would need home care," Golberg said. She remembers trying to understand what this news meant for the family.
She credits her parents with answering "any and all" questions and with getting age-appropriate material from the MS Society. "It gave us a better understanding," Golberg said. Her mother, she said, has done "pretty well" with the disease.
In recent years, Cohen, who works part-time, has been walking several miles a day and has altered her diet, in line with MS research that lifestyle changes seem to help.
"She feels much better now," Golberg said.
Cohen walked in the Towson MS Walk last year and hopes to participate in the Hunt Valley MS Walk.
"It depends on how I am feeling that day," she said.
Whether she walks or not, she is fully behind the event.
"It's amazing to me to be part of the MS Walk and to help raise awareness," Cohen said. "Since I was diagnosed, I have two mantras: The first is 'Don't give up; don't ever give up" from the late Jimmy Valvano, the head basketball coach of North Carolina State University, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The second is, 'I have MS; MS doesn't have me.' That was my person thought, and it changed my attitude toward what I can do about the disease."
Rachel Elhai, Michelle Golberg's cousin, was diagnosed with MS two years ago.
"She's young but they are diagnosing people at younger ages," Golberg said of her cousin, who is married and a nurse.
"She has her good days and her bad days. She also changed her eating habits, going gluten-free."
Elhai is a pediatric nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
"To me, the walk is making something positive out of something that is not positive for me and others," Elhai said. "I advocate for all my patients, and now I advocate for myself and other MS patients. I can create awareness through the walk."
The walks are the National MS Society's major fundraiser, raising $50 million for 380 research projects worldwide, including at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and University of Maryland Medical System.
The Maryland Chapter holds 11 walks throughout the state through the month of April. Baltimore City's walk is held at Power Plant Live. Last year, the Maryland chapter's walks raised slightly over $1 million; this year, the goal is $1.25 million.
The chapter has been holding walks for 27 years, "and we've got people who have walked with us that long," said Mark Roeder, president of the National MS Society, Maryland Chapter, which is based in Timonium.
Roeder said that a high percentage of walkers have a connection MS, either through a family member or a co-worker.
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"Because of events like the walk, there are now modifying therapies. They're not a cure but they do help people manage their symptoms. The Maryland chapter wants people to live their best lives," said Roeder, whose chapter provides people with MS with financial help, home modification and local programming.
Jon Dahlquist will be taking part in Walk MS, as he has for the past six years. He won't be alone, either. Dahlquist, assistant athletic director, football administration, Towson University, will be bringing Towson's football team and staff members with him, somewhere between 50 to 100 people.
Starting at 5:30 a.m., Dahlquist's crew will be setting up registration tables and sponsor tents, welcoming walkers, handing out T-shirts and then breaking it all down when the event is over, usually by 1 or 2 p.m.
Dahlquist does it for his dad. His father died from complications of the disease in 2007 at the age of 58.
"I was a teenager. I didn't notice anything until he told me," said Dahlquist, a Towson resident, married and a father.
"My goal is to alert people to the cause," he said. "I want to bring awareness of MS."
Walk MS takes part Sunday, April 12 at Hunt Valley Towne Centre, off Interstate 83, with registration at 8 a.m. and the walk at 9 a.m. Participants may walk as individuals, with a family-friends team or as part of a corporate team. There is no entry fee for the walk but donations are requested. Registration can be done online at WalkMS.org.