Ten years ago, Teri George was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). For nearly a decade, she has been confined to a wheelchair while caring for two young children.
While struggling with the burden of her disease, George was inspired, and has spent the last four years hard at work to raise awareness for MS within the community of Kilmarnock and the Northern Neck.
In less than two months, Kilmarnock will hold its first MS Walk, the brainchild of a local group George has spearheaded.
And, after the feeling returned in her legs sixth months ago enabling her to walk again, another dream of George’s may soon be realized as she plans to walk with her friends and family through the community she loves.
Born and raised outside of Kilmarnock in Weems, George was inspired by walks in Richmond and Tappahannock to establish one in Lancaster County.
She shared the idea of a walk with individuals in the MS Society a few times in the past, but said that there people in different positions within the society at the time.
“It got overlooked,” she said.
But then, she was given the opportunity to have lunch with President Sherri Ellis of the society’s Central Virginia Chapter, Sharon Baldacci of the Northern Neck Neuromuscular Support Group and others with ties to the illness.
“We all just met and it was actually by happy accident that I even got invited,” said George, adding that she was able to speak one-on-one with Ellis about her vision.
“She was happy to hear it and accepted the idea right then and there,” said George, adding that she has enjoyed a “fun process” in piecing her idea into a reality.
And, last Friday, four women with MS and Clare Lorio, the Development Manager for the Central Virginia Chapter of the National MS Society, met over apple cake and coffee at Betty Smith’s house in Warsaw to discuss the goals and motivations behind MS Walk: Kilmarnock, which will make its debut on Saturday, Apr. 20 at Grace Episcopal Church.
Along with George, Millers Tavern resident Evelyn Ransome, Esther Glover and Baldacci shared their experiences with MS as well as their hope to raise public awareness regarding the illness through the walk.
Baldacci called events like the MS walks and support groups “community-building” because they show individuals with the illness that they are not alone.
“I can remember when we went through some horrible relapses and feeling so alone,” said Baldacci. “This going to sound weird, but it’s so wonderful to have somebody else going through the same thing and not feel so alone.”
“On the outside looking in, I would imagine that there are still a lot of people newly diagnosed that don’t feel like, ‘I’m the only one, this is only happening to me,’” Lorio said. “They don’t realize how many people in their community are living with the same thing, and are able to help them in terms of emotional support.”
Ransome said that not only did she and her daughter have MS, but so did two daughters within her community.
However, Baldacci shared that talking to others about MS was difficult since symptoms were not always visible.
“It’s not something you can see if somebody’s legs or arms go numb,” Baldacci said. “Then there’s fatigue which is horrible and you can’t see that, and lots of family members are concerned because they don’t understand.”
George said limited understanding from others contributed to her struggles with MS.
“When I was diagnosed, I had had symptoms for at least six or seven years,” said George. “The doctors…were not aware enough to be able to diagnose me.”
She stressed that the MS walk did more than just help create awareness and acceptance in the community for the people living with MS.
“It’s also a matter of spreading [knowledge of the illness] throughout the medical community, because we are a smaller area,” she said. “We do have people with these special needs here and [we] need answers.”
Glover pointed out that although there is a neurologist at Rappahannock General in Kilmarnock, there is no specialist for MS on the Northern Neck.
Lorio said that a bulkhead of the money raised by the MS walks goes to the National Center for Research and emphasized research as the primary means for benefiting individuals with MS.
She added: “Until we talk about it and bring awareness, we’re not going to continue to plunge into those avenues for research. ”
Lorio said that the society took “great pains” to ensure that people in wheelchairs will be able to traverse the path with ease.
“It’s kind of the do-it-yourself personal fundraising that each team does,” she said, adding that incentives like free T-shirts will be provided on the walk for teams and individuals who raise $125 and higher.
Lorio said the society is hoping for 75 walkers, although she smiled when she added that if they did reach 100, she would “do a little dance.”
“We’re hoping to start strong and just get bigger,” she said. “ [That way], people are aware and we can spread it to the smaller communities around here and reach out.
“It’s not just about Kilmarnock,” Lorio added. It’s here [in Warsaw] and…all these smaller communities being able to come together for something. “
George was excited about the upcoming walk in Kilmarnock.
“We’re such a small-town area and we’re so closely knit that I know that if everyone is aware about it and willing to join along, I know that we can all come together and be really successful,” she said.
To learn how to become a part of the first Walk MS: Kilmarnock, visit the Northern Neck Family YMCA on Thursday, Mar. 7 in Kilmarnock at 6 p.m. For more information, call 804-591-3037.