MS Researcher Makes a Difference from Above
Research into the biological cause of and possible therapies for multiple sclerosis is the vocation and passion of Minnetta Gardinier, PhD. She began studying MS during her graduate work at Louisiana State University and at UCLA, continued through her postdoctoral training at a research institute in Lausanne (Switzerland) and on into her own research program work at Northwestern University, which she later relocated to the University of Iowa. For fifteen years, Dr. Gardinier was also the recipient of research support provided by the National MS Society. She is presently an Associate Professor of Pharmacology and an Associate Dean of the Graduate College at the University of Iowa.
“My research efforts have been important to me, because MS is the #1 neurological disease diagnosed in young people. People in the prime of their life – busy starting families and at their peak professionally – are suddenly forced to deal with very serious and debilitating challenges. It can be a terrible disease and it needs to be eliminated or certainly better controlled.”
Dr. Gardinier also has a personal connection to the disease. A close friend with whom she went through both high school and college developed MS as did her friend’s sister. These experiences put a human face on the disease for her.
MS research is not Dr. Gardinier’s only passion, however. Six years ago, she decided to take on a new challenge and to pursue a lifelong dream – to earn her pilot’s wings.
“I was always interested in aviation because my mother worked at a local airport. I was that ‘geeky kid’ glued to the TV set watching space shots in the 60’s. With a small amount of ‘found money,’ I decided it was finally time to treat myself to flying lessons. It was exhilarating to take flight, to solo, and to earn my private pilot license after having that dream for so many years.”
Dr. Gardinier’s enthusiasm for her new hobby inspired her to participate in the Air Race Classic in 2008 and 2009, where she was able to merge both her passion for flying and her passion to end MS. Air Race Classic, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and educating current and future women pilots, while demonstrating women’s roles in aviation. The 2009 Air Race Classic marked the 80th anniversary of a racing tradition that began in 1929 when 20 female pilots (including third place finisher Amelia Earhart) flew from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH.
In 2008, co-pilot, Linda Moody, an architect from Pepperell, MA, joined Dr. Gardinier in Bozeman, MT where they flew together for the first time in a race across the country to Mansfield, MA. In 2009, they teamed up again and raced from Denver, CO. to Atlantic, IA looping down through the south central U.S. and completing 2700 miles in four days. Each race team has a handicap speed assigned for their plane based on its specifications and modifications, and each team races to beat its handicap speed. “It is an amazing experience flying with nearly 70 other women pilots, each team challenging itself to fly the best cross-country course!”
The Air Race Classic encourages teams to raise money and secure sponsors to offset race costs. The Wild Women of the Wind team, as Dr. Gardinier and Ms. Moody call themselves, determined to implement their motto “Making a Difference from Above,” by donating private sponsorships they received to the National MS Society. “For us the event allowed us to be a part of a rich aeronautic history and to raise awareness of MS.”
In a grassroots effort, Dr. Gardinier has reached out to family, friends, colleagues and other MS researchers. “I wanted to pay forward the Society’s support and belief in me and my work. Now it feels great to support the research of new investigators who are struggling to move us forward to a world free of multiple sclerosis. They represent the future as we close in on this disease.”
In two years, Wild Women of the Wind has donated nearly $6,000. Dr. Gardinier plans to race again in 2010 from Ft. Myers, FL to Frederick, MD zigzagging up along the eastern U.S.
“It’s upsetting to me that this disease strikes young people in their most vibrant and productive years. I’m doing my best to educate people about MS and will continue to raise money for the Society until we’ve put and end to multiple sclerosis, which I hope is soon.”