Ask Piper McNealy the names of her siblings and it sounds as if she’s rattling off a tongue twister: Pam, Penny, PJ, and Paige. Add Piper in there, along with her parents, Paul and Pam and you see the pattern. Even her pets growing up were Popcorn and Peanuts!
While that’s a lot of P’s, there are two letters also making a big impact on Piper and her family – MS.
McNealy’s oldest sister Pam was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993 at the age of 27.
“We heard she had MS,” recalls Piper. “We couldn’t even spell sclerosis, never mind say it.”
Despite her symptoms, Pam continued to move forward, marrying her husband Scott Travers and giving birth to their son David, who’s now 17 years old.
“They are good eggs,” said Pam. “I wouldn’t be getting through this without them.”
She also had the support of Penny, PJ, Piper, Paige, Pam and Paul. Piper had just graduated Babson College and moved to Colorado when Pam was diagnosed. Within a month, she was taking part in her first Bike MS ride, 150 miles through the Colorado Rockies. One leg involved a grueling climb up and over the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest bridge in the United States.
“I had tied a small stuffed bear to my handlebars and every time I wanted to quit and get off that bike, I thought of Pam,” she said. “We were all scared. We didn’t know what this disease would do to her. We wanted to understand, we wanted answers and we wanted to help, and if pedaling through those mountains would help get us there, then I needed to do my part and keep moving forward.”
Forward motion is the family’s mantra, not because of Piper and her bike, but rather because of something David said and did while just a little kid. He was climbing the stairs behind his mother and she started to fall backwards. David put his small hand on her back and said, “Forward motion Mama, forward motion.”
Piper eventually moved back to Massachusetts, where she founded her business, Boston Benefit Partners. She continued to participate in Bike MS and in 2003 joined the Board of Trustees for the National MS Society, Greater New England Chapter.
On October 25, 2014, Piper received the gavel from outgoing Board Chair Doug Bryant, becoming the first female chair in more than twenty years. In her first speech as Chair, Piper talked about how growing up in big family has shaped her as a leader.
“I firmly believe that the power of one is far outweighed by the power of many, that a good belly laugh is that much more joyful when experienced with others, that a journey is more fulfilling when shared with your best friend, and that a job is significantly more successful when a mix of minds, energy and spirit are put in a bowl, swirled around and baked to perfection.”
“She’s so outstanding; I’m so proud of her,” said Pam. “It’s an awesome responsibility and awesome they recognized her.”
But, if Piper thinks to call on her sister for advice in this new position, Pam says she shouldn’t.
“Nope, because I don’t know the first thing about what it is she has to do,” laughed Pam.
One thing Pam knows for sure is, their father Paul, who passed away a year ago would be so proud to see Piper take the gavel and steer the organization the family looks to for help and hope.
“Dad would be so proud of her if he were here,” said Pam. “He’d be saying, ‘My Pipeees; way to go Pipeees!’”