Inspired by her mother, Jill, who has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1980, Wisconsin native Ashley Kumlien has run entire marathons to support the movement to end MS. But not just one or two: Beginning on March 22, 2010, Ashley ran about the length of a marathon a day across the country, starting in San Francisco, Calif., with only a motor home and a single crew member to spur her on. As she made her way from the west coast to the east, she went through 10 pairs of running shoes and lost 16 pounds. More than half a year later, on September 28th, 2010, she reached the steps of City Hall in New York City, surrounded by family, friends, Society supporters, her mother and Montel Williams, raising awareness and more than $56,000 to stop MS.
“I applaud Ashley for founding MS Run the US in honor of her mother—and on behalf of myself and everyone else who is impacted by this insidious disease, I am proud to be associated with such a courageous and inspiring young woman,” commented Williams. The founder of the Montel Williams MS Foundation, Williams went public with his own MS diagnosis in 1999.
In 2013, Ashley expanded her MS Run the US event, drawing on her crowd-sourcing skills to make an even bigger splash. This year she created a relay involving a combination of runners, many of whom had MS or a close connection to someone living with the disease. Each participant was required to raise $10,000 and prepared for months to run the equivalent of a marathon every day for one week, passing the torch to the next runner to collaboratively retrace Ashley’s steps across the nation. Ashley’s acumen paid off: MS Run the US raised almost $175,000 to support research to stop, repair and end MS. As the relay traveled eastward, media attention of the event snowballed, bringing awareness of the disease to millions across the country. The next relay is planned to begin in April 2014, with an expectation to surpass half a million dollars in cumulative fundraising.
Ashley’s mother continues to be her focus. “My mom’s strongest message is to do as much as she can for as long as she can,” Ashley said. “Don’t give up. Hang onto hope for as long as you can. Count your blessings and focus on what you do still have. MS can be a depressing disease, but we want people to know we care about them.”