EAST HAMPTON, Conn. – When East Hampton resident Dick Schroth met his little brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program he knew how important an extra bit of support can be to a child facing adversity. He couldn’t have known, however, what that support might mean 20 years down the road.
“When I met Lorenzo I knew that he was a good kid but he really made a mark on me,” shared Schroth, who had three teenagers of his own, Alison, Jon and Brian. “He was quick to become a part of the family and we loved having him around.”
Lorenzo Rogala-Noland was a high school student, only two years older than Schroth’s own daughter. He played on his high school basketball team, ran track and was an all-around outgoing boy. As he grew closer to the family, Rogala-Noland even moved into the Schroth home.
“It was a bad situation for me at home, but Dick and his family were always there for me,” remembered Rogala-Noland.
So, in 2000 when Rogala-Noland shared that he had been diagnosed with a potentially debilitating disease, the Schroth family was devastated.
“Looking back I can see that I had been battling symptoms all throughout my high school years,” said Rogala-Noland, now a resident of Middletown. “Whenever I mentioned that my legs were numb or tingling, people would say, ‘it’s shin splints, you’re an athlete, you’ll be fine.’ I knew that wasn’t the case, but I couldn’t find a doctor to take me seriously until I met a neurologist when I was 18 years old. It took almost two years to find out that it was multiple sclerosis.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Rogala-Noland, are affected by multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. The cause is unknown and there is currently no cure for MS. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness, loss of mobility and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted.
“There were two years before my diagnosis when I didn’t see any of the Schroths,” said Rogala-Noland, now 34. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I pulled away from everyone. Once I knew what MS was, that it wasn’t contagious, I got back in touch. Dick’s wife, Linda, is a doctor and knew bit more about it than I did.”
Together, the team asked many questions, found some answers, and ultimately kept moving forward. But the Schroths knew they had to find a way to help, and the Team Lorenzo Bike MS fundraising team was born.
“I’ve always had a bike but I wouldn’t call myself an avid cyclist,” said Schroth, now president of his own company, Schroth Systems Consulting, Inc. “When I learned of the National MS Society’s Bike MS event I knew it was something we could try together. But it’s really been Lorenzo who keeps me motivated.”
Team Lorenzo has participated in every June Bike MS event, in Windsor, since the team was established in 2006. With a core of family and friends, including Schroth’s wife and three children, now in their 30s, the team usually rides with about 20 participants, and the miles covered vary from year to year.
“I started out doing the 25-mile route with Lorenzo,” remembered Schroth, who recently underwent shoulder surgery, but won’t let that keep him off of a bike. “There were a couple of times I completed the century ride, but I usually completed the 50-mile route. This year I have to be careful because of my shoulder, but I’m still going out for the 25. Even if I have to go a bit slower and use one hand, I’m riding.”
Rogala-Noland has continued to ride too, despite his MS and the various symptoms it brings to his life. He began in 2006 with the 25-mile route and eventually switched to the 10. Now a father of a five-year-old, Corey, he plans to do the two-mile course with his son.
“Without my big brother, I probably would have given up a long time ago,” said Rogala-Noland, who has experienced numbness, tingling, balance and bladder issues, temporary loss of sight, smell and taste, among other things, due to his MS. “Dick is the reason why I keep fighting. He has always been the one to push me and keep me inspired. As long as he has expectations of me, I’m going to push myself to meet them.”
The 2014 Praxair Bike MS Ride, presented by Louis Dreyfus Commodities, will be held Sunday, June 1, in Windsor and Sunday, June 8, in Westport. Finish line festivities include a barbeque lunch, live entertainment, local vendors offering product samples, free massage therapy and more.
Last year, Bike MS attracted more than 800 cyclists and raised more than $578,000. This year, the chapter hopes to raise $595,000. Team Lorenzo has set a $5,000 fundraising goal.
“I usually send an email reminding my friends that Bike MS is around the corner, so if anyone would like to support the team, they can do so,” said Schroth, who has led Team Lorenzo in raising more than $40,000 since its inception in 2006. “It’s a pretty low-key push to fundraise, but each year we raise around $5,000.”
Funds raised by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter, through events such as Bike MS, ensure ongoing scientific research to find better treatments and a cure, as well as help to provide vital programs and services offered by the chapter to those in the state living with multiple sclerosis.
For an eighth year, WTNH News 8 anchor Darren Kramer will serve as the grand marshal of Bike MS. Community partners include WTNH News 8, WRCH Lite 100.5 and The Fox 95.9.
“I enjoy the ride as an event to get out and reconnect with my family and friends,” said Schroth. “But I also get a good feeling knowing that I am doing something to take an active role in helping out a good cause.”
For more information on the 2014 Praxair Bike MS, presented by Louis Dreyfus Commodities, visit www.bikeMSct.org. To donate to Team Lorenzo, visit http://tinyurl.com/TeamLorenzo2014.