3-day, 50-mile challenge gets under way

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sandra Williams had walked more than 20 miles before, but that was before her multiple sclerosis was diagnosed.

She also had slept on a floor before, but that was back in high school.

By this morning, though, the 43-year-old physical therapist will have done both again. And she will have 27 miles and one more stiff-backed night to go.

Williams learned three years ago that she has the chronic disease of the central nervous system. "My legs and arms didn't work. I'm doing much better now," she said yesterday morning. "I think I can do it."

She was one of nearly 750 walkers who departed Annapolis yesterday for the three-day, 50-mile MS Challenge Walk, the first for the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The sneaker-clad group, mostly women, is taking the back roads to Washington.

They spent last night at Bowie State University and will walk 14 miles today to reach Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Tomorrow they will walk 13 miles to the U.S. Capitol.

Yesterday, the walkers gathered for stretching and bagels before 9 a.m. outside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Kendel Ehrlich, first lady of Maryland, wished them well, and they started their journey to a chorus of supportive honks from stalled traffic on Rowe Boulevard and shouts from people leaning out of nearby office windows.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is best known for raising funds with its bicycle rides. This year, it is trying something new. The society organized a handful of three-day walks across the country.

Each walker raised at least $1,500 to participate in the MS walk. In all, the local event was expected to collect $1.5 million for multiple sclerosis research and programs, said Rick Smith, president of the Maryland chapter, which is co-host of the walk with the Hampton Roads and National Capital chapters.

Nearly nine in 10 of the walkers "have an intimate relationship with MS," Smith said. Many wore yellow tags affixed to their backs declaring whom they support.

Brenda Heinecke, 50, of Baltimore said she was walking for her daughter, who takes an injection each day and couldn't endure three days of walking.

"I hope they can eventually find a cure so she doesn't have to take the medicine every day," Heinecke said.

For Lisa Creasy, 43, of the Eastern Shore, walking is a lot easier than it used to be. When her multiple sclerosis was diagnosed two years ago, she said, her feet felt like 40-pound cinderblocks. She raised $10,001 -- tops among the walkers.

"I'm doing it for all my friends with MS who can't walk," she said. "Usually when I walk, I pray. So I'm going to be busy."

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