Australia’s most iconic charity bike ride will be celebrating its 33rd anniversary this year. The MS Sydney to Gong Ride is a special part of Sydney’s cycling heritage.
The MS Sydney to Gong Ride is famous for its atmosphere, spectacular scenery, wonderful volunteers and the generosity of its riders and supporters.
This year’s target is to raise $3.8 million for people living with multiple sclerosis, the most common neurological condition in young adults. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and often debilitating disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system. The consequences of such a condition can include extreme fatigue, chronic pain, vision, cognitive, continence and mobility issues, right through to total and permanent disability. It currently affects more than 23,000 Australians. Three quarters of people living with MS are women.
Sofey Yousseff, the PR Manager at MS Australia said, “Since the events inception in 1982, more than 150,000 riders have taken the challenge of riding to Wollongong and raised over $30 million to support people with MS – a far cry from the 240 riders and 25 support staff who took part in the first event,” she said. “It is Australia’s most iconic, respected and recognised one day charity cycling event.”
This year, Australian Cycling champions Carol Cooke, Bradley McGee and Ben Kersten will pedal for a cause. Carol Cooke, an MS Ambassador, was diagnosed with MS at the age of 36 after experiencing disturbing balance problems and double vision. Her neurologist told her that “your life as you know it is over. Go home and put your affairs in order before you become incapacitated.”
But Carol did not back down and instead made it her goal to defy what the neurologist had told her. “After that initial diagnosis I did think that my life was over, but once I had information about what multiple sclerosis was, I decided that no one was going to tell me how to live my life,” she said.
“I decided that multiple sclerosis did not define who I was or what I could accomplish and realised that knowledge is power. Nothing is impossible if we dare to face our fears and believe in ourselves. The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
Carol was a national level swimmer in Canada and was due to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics until international politics intervened and Canada was one of the countries to boycott in protest against the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
32 years later, she took up a job training for the Australian Rowing Team and at the 2012 London Paralympics, Carol won a Gold Medal in the Mixed T1-T2 road time trial at 51 years of age. She has since added numerous awards and achievements to her name.
Olympic and Commonwealth Gold Medalist Brad McGee and Ben Kersten have taken part in the MS Sydney to the Gong Ride numerous times.
“I did the MS Gong Ride with my then girlfriend [now wife] Sharni on a tandem,” Brad said. “We had a great time and often remember it in stories with friends and our kids, I remember stopping at Eagle on the Hill for an apple pie and then speeding off again!”
Brad started cycling in 1986 at the age of 10. Since then he has won a number of awards and was the first Australian to lead the Tour of Spain and the first to wear the leader’s jersey of all three Grand Tours.
Ben has a personal connection to both multiple sclerosis and the MS Sydney to the Gong Ride. “Multiple sclerosis has touched my family and anything I can do to fight the battle I will,” he said. “It’s on my home turf so the ride holds a lot of fond memories for me from a young age. I can remember riding up to Sydney with a friend when we were around 14 and then we’d do the MS Gong Ride back home.”
Sofey said that the MS Gong Ride initially started as a recreational, social ride, but now there are major corporate organisations that take part such as SBS, Westpac, AMP, Suncorp and various others. “Nowadays everyone wears helmets, most large teams have a team jersey, some people get dressed up in crazy costumes and most people have professional bikes they ride,” she said. “However, let’s not forget the main reason this event is put on – to raise vital funds for people living with multiple sclerosis so they can continue to live their lives to the fullest!”
Money raised by MS Sydney to the Gong participants will provide essential day to day assistance and support to people living with multiple sclerosis while the search for a cure continues. – Jessica Heckley
Top photo by Joshua Morris supplied by the 2013 MS Sydney to Gong Ride.