When Lew Schwartz was just six weeks old, his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As an infant, Schwartz wouldn’t know the long, winding road that lay ahead. More than 62 years later, Schwartz is still traveling the highway that one day may lead to a cure—now with a dedicated team riding with him.
Deeda Schatz Edelson, Schwartz’s mother, lived in the Hartford area most of her life. She was a strong woman, whom Schwartz described as someone who was independent and successful despite her illness. One of two female graduates in her class at the University of Connecticut School of Law, Schatz fought through her MS while studying. After graduation, she began working at a law firm in Hartford. Schatz was a long-time member of both the National MS Society and her local chapter. She lived to see age 70 before passing away in December 1994.
“My mom lived with multiple sclerosis—it was just part of our lives,” Schwartz recollected. “She never let her symptoms control our lives or hers.”
Through his personal experience, Schwartz realized the search for a cure was painstakingly slow. He decided to honor his mother by doing his part for the MS cause. Schwartz, now senior vice president and general counsel of Gartner, Inc., a Connecticut-based global business, turned to the National MS Society, just as his mother had. Then, Schwartz teamed up with the Bike MS community for the first time in 2006.
“Bike MS was the positive intersection of my personal struggle for the cause and my love of physical fitness,” shared Schwartz, a self-declared avid cyclist who lives in Stamford. “The Bike MS ride was the perfect combination of these two things, and the ride quickly became something with which I wanted to spend a lot of time.”
When Schwartz first began riding in the Bike MS event in Westport, he and roughly half a dozen others formed his team.
“For the first few years we were a small team,” continued Schwartz, as he reminisced about the early years of Team Gartner. “It wasn’t until I met Brian Firstbrook, account manager for IBM at Gartner, that our team really took off on a corporate scale. The smartest thing I ever did was bring him on board. We would never be where we are today without his leadership.”
From the time the two met in 2009 and first discussed Bike MS, Firstbrook knew he wanted to be a part of Schwartz’s team.
“I was immediately enthusiastic about the cause,” shared Firstbrook. “I was excited to help Lew, but I also was excited about bringing our people together to support a cause that affects so many people in our community. Bike MS is the driving force behind our newly established corporate cycling club that has grown every year since its inception.”
Firstbrook, 51, of Ridgefield, is an active member of two cycling clubs in addition to riding with Gartner—the Sound Cyclists and the Ridgefield Bike Club. Because he is such a passionate cyclist, the Connecticut Chapter has enlisted Firstbrook to help map out the Bike MS course, providing a rider’s point-of-view to the course design team.
“I like to set goals that will challenge me both as a cyclist as well as a fund raiser,” shared Firstbrook. “Gartner is a great organization that has worked hard to help us get more people involved in giving back to the community.”
Last year, Team Gartner was made up of 40 cyclists consisting of employees, friends and family of those at Gartner. The Stamford-based Gartner Inc., the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, raised $28,221 for the Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride last year, and hopes to exceed that as the team continues to grow. This year, the co-captains hope to reach a roster of 60. If they reach their enrollment goal, the men hope to raise $30,000.
“What is one of the most rewarding parts of creating this team is getting to know other people in the organization and their personal connections to MS,” confided Schwartz. “I don’t hide the fact that my mother lived MS when I am fundraising, but it is not something that comes up regularly. Bike MS has been a very effective rally cry. It is an incredibly important cause, and our participation is a win-win-win: people who have no connection to MS are educated about the disease and what the National MS Society is doing, people with a connection are able to team up with others, and people living with MS are comforted by our efforts.”
To help with the team’s fundraising, the company provides team jerseys and uses them as incentives to encourage participants to raise more than the minimum amount required to be a cyclist.
“Gartner has a very active charitable match program,” explained Schwartz. “But what we really like to see, as a company, is that people have skin in the game. We want to develop passion and commitment for the cause.”
The 32nd annual Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride, presented by Louis Dreyfus Commodities, will be held Sunday, June 2, in Windsor and Sunday, June 9, in Westport. Team Gartner will ride in Westport, as it has since the team’s inception.
Last year, Bike MS attracted more than 950 cyclists and raised more than $500,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter. This year, the chapter hopes to raise $539,000.
Finish line festivities include a barbeque lunch, live entertainment, local vendors offering product samples, free massage therapy and more. Team Gartner will have a tent set up in Westport serving as a home base for cyclists.
“We love that we can go to an event like this and really look like a corporation that is dedicated to the cause,” said Firstbrook. “Everyone is invested in the ride and it is a great feeling to have the opportunity to be a part of it. Bike MS is truly our focus. Everything else the bike club at Gartner does revolves around that one day in June.”
Darren Kramer, evening news anchor for WTNH News 8, will for a seventh year serve as the grand marshal of Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride.
The registration fee for this year’s ride is $25 prior to March 31, and $35 thereafter. The minimum fundraising amount per registered rider is $125.
Community partners include WTNH News 8, The Fox 95.9 and WRCH Lite 100.5, which has supported and promoted the ride for more than 26 years.
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents are affected by multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease. The cause is unknown and there is currently no cure for MS. Symptoms can include 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.
“What is happening at Gartner is fabulous,” enthused Schwartz. “It is important to me that our company has gathered a critical mass of people who are so excited about getting involved in something that is so dear to me. The outpouring of support I have witnessed and the amount of increased awareness means that more people are searching for a cure.”
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 more information on Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride, presented by Louis Dreyfus Commodities, visit www.bikeMSct.org. To donate to the Gartner Team, please visitwww.ctfightsms.org.