On May 31, Reisterstown resident and graphic designer Jill Eisenberg will mount her bike and ride 150 miles as part of Bike MS, an event to raise funds and awareness for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. This will be her 10th consecutive year as a fundraiser and participant of the function.
An avid fitness enthusiast who also participates in triathlons and half-marathons, she originally signed up for Bike MS as a way of testing her physical limitations.
"When it first started, it really was a challenge to myself to see if I could push myself that much," she said.
But as she became more involved in the annual event, she gained a better understanding of the disease, its symptoms, and the medications prescribed to fight it.
"I learned more about it from continuing to go to the rides," she said. "The more I got involved the more I would talk to people. I would say 'I'm biking for MS,' and people would tell me their stories. Each year there's an annual meeting and I think I've been attending for about five years. Doctors come and I would sit and listen to what's new with research and what's been going on in the MS world."
As her knowledge of MS grew, so did her dedication to raising money for a cure for the disease which currently affects about 10,000 Maryland residents.
"As I would go to the ride each year, I would see more people with MS and make more friends, and then I would continue to ride for them," she said. "As the years progressed, it more became about MS and less about the bike riding."
Over the past 10 years, she has personally raised more than $20,000 for the MS Society, a testament to her tireless fundraising and networking efforts.
"I fundraise through letters, emails I send out," she said. "I do fundraisers in restaurants and sometimes in the store [A Journey From Junk], and I do social media. I have a friend -- she owns a store in Ellicott City -- and she's hosting a fundraiser for me."
In addition to her participation in the Bike MS event, she also volunteers for the organization in whatever capacity they ask of her. She is extremely active in the community and works to raise awareness about the need to find a cure for MS.
Samantha Flottemesch, development manager for the Maryland chapter of the MS Society and Bike MS manager and coordinator, said she recognizes Eisenberg's extensive volunteer efforts for the Society.
"She's very dedicated, she's extremely motivated, and she goes above and beyond to do as much as she can to help fund-raise," she said.
Melissa Ward, community relations manager of the Maryland chapter of the MS Society, has also personally seen Eisenberg's dedication and the work she has done in the community.
"She's a very public figure in the MS movement," Ward said. "She's on the [Bike MS] committee, she attends other people's events, so she's instrumental in raising awareness, and then her team is always a top fundraising team in the Bike MS events, and that money goes toward research programs and services."
Eisenberg's commitment to raising funds and awareness has inspired her friends and family to become involved as well. Her team of about 25 people is made up of coworkers, friends and acquaintances who have seen the passion she has for the cause.
Though "Team Design Connection" was originally founded by Eisenberg's friend, Suellen Kneller - who named it after her business and continues to sponsor it and act as a rider - it is run by Eisenberg. As captain, Eisenberg manages the operations, communication and fundraising of the team, ensuring all areas are organized.
The team is made up of riders, who raise money and participate in the biking event, and volunteers, who serve food and refreshments to bikers at a rest stop.
"We all [the riders] bike anywhere from 30 to 100 miles the first day and 25 to 50 the second day," Eisenberg said. "I probably have about 75 percent riders and 25 percent volunteers."
To her teammates and those around her, however, Eisenberg is more than a team captain. She is also a motivator and voice of encouragement and support.
"I think she's definitely been a huge inspiration to not only the folks that she works with, but her friends as well," Flottemesch said. "I know she has a lot of friends and family who volunteer at our events every year, so she's definitely encouraged more people to become involved with our organization and with our Bike MS and Walk MS events."
For those around her, the dedication she shows to the cause is only matched by her positive and giving attitude.
"One of my first real moments kind of seeing who she was, was watching her encourage other riders at the first Bike MS I worked," Ward said. "She's the first person to come up to you and say 'hi.' I think that there are very few people as positive as she is in the world. Most mornings she starts her day with a Facebook post about how to be a better person or be more engaged. She's just a very positive lady and that's important for us because it's wonderful to be around people like that."
Eisenberg's friend, Paula Singer, became a part of her Bike MS team nine years ago and has participated ever since.
"She's inspiring," Singer said. "She's always positive, she's influential in all the right ways, beautiful inside and out. She's pretty awesome; I wish I could be more like Jill."
To Eisenberg, volunteering for the MS Society means giving those battling the disease the support, both medically and emotionally, that they need.
"It means helping the few really good friends that I have met to change the way medicine is," she said. "When I first got involved a lot of the medicines were shots, and now a lot of them are oral."
For the biker who encourages others with her dedication, it is the perseverance of her friends who battle MS and the kindness of donors that serves as her motivation.
"I'm inspired by the people that are around me that have MS that ride with me, that continue to fight everyday," Eisenberg said. "I'm inspired by the people who donate because they know I'm making a difference."
As someone fighting the disease, Ward has been personally touched by Eisenberg's drive and dedication to the Society.
"Well just to show you, I was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and I think that it's very powerful when you see someone so committed, and knowing that there are other people out there willing to do the work to find a cure," she said.
When it comes to working hard to make that cure a reality, Eisenberg is unwavering. For her, giving back is just a part of who she is.
"I think it gives her great personal satisfaction to help others," Singer said. "She's one of the most unselfish people I know."