That's the Way, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, She Moves It
Sheryl Casey’s Walk MS team is growing so fast, we might have to talk to the post office about getting it a ZIP code.
Casey, a former Drexel University basketball player, was in no mood to party when she first read about Walk MS in a New Jersey newspaper in 2001. A neurologist had tapped her spine, misplaced the fluid, tapped her again, and said her loss of vision, poor balance and excruciating pain in the feet were not multiple sclerosis. Her husband Bill, then an MRI technician at a local hospital, proved otherwise by documenting her brain lesions.
“There’s a mirror on the machine. I could see the white coats come in to confer with Bill at the MRI station. I knew right away that I had MS,” Casey said.
The pain grew so bad that she wore slippers for six months. Then she fractured her back. “I would rather have given birth to 10 babies all at once than feel that. It was horrific. My first year was almost as bad as you can imagine,” she said.
“I was still very much in denial, very scared, very upset. But I thought: I can make my family walk.” They named the team Casey and the Sunshine Clan after her favorite disco group, KC and the Sunshine Band. “I really only expected my immediate family. I showed up and there were 87 people there. I almost cried. And they raised $12,000 for the Greater Delaware Valley Chapter.”
Eighty-seven is big for a friends-and-family team (a corporate team, by contrast, can have participants in as many places as the company has offices). But it really took off when a middle school teacher whose daughter was a kindergarten classmate of Casey's son asked if Walk MS might be a good service project for the honor society she advised. The Gloucester Township school district embraced the idea, and the Sunshine Clan zoomed from dozens to hundreds. Some are "virtual walkers" but Casey expects more than 500 to turn out in person for the 2009 event.
“We make them feel they own part of the team, they’re not just walking for Casey,” she said. “We have six yellow school buses that show up and unload all these kids to our walk site. That is so cool to see.”
Casey brings her sons when she speaks to school groups, hoping it will teach them about MS in a non-threatening way. “I’m a little afraid it will worry them, but I want them to understand,” she said. “They’ll see me some days have difficulty walking and they’ll say, ‘Mommy, are you OK?’ and now they understand why.”
Casey has never walked the route with her team because the 33 pain pills she takes daily have yet to tame the raw nerves in her feet, but in 2009 she’s thinking of starting with them and taking a shortcut back to the registration tent. While the walk is a source of moral support, organizing the team is so exhausting it takes her a month to recover.
Is it worth it?
“People ask me that all the time, my mother especially. It’s a hard question to answer,” she said. “I’m an overachiever. I don’t know how to do things in small pieces. I just can’t. I feel like if I didn’t do this, I would be succumbing to the disease. This is my way of feeling that I am going to find a cure.”