You could tell it was the start of trout season over the weekend: the air was raw and the waters were choppy, and still thousands of anglers headed to lakes and streams to wet a line.
But fishermen and women weren't the only folks braving the chilly early-spring conditions. This weekend also marked the Walk MS, an annual fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The local office is based in Hollidaysburg, and walks took place this weekend in Hollidaysburg, Bedford, Indiana, Johnstown and DuBois.
In Hollidaysburg, walkers flocked to the junior high school to join with their teammates with the goal to raise more than $100,000. At the same time, excitement was brewing at Shawnee State Park in Bedford County. Upbeat music was playing throughout the registration area. Walkers were bundled up to brave the cold temperatures: mid-40's, as they prepared for their 5K jaunt.
Throughout the region, thousands of people participated, a testament to the significance of the event, and the Society which benefits from it. There were walkers of all ages, shapes and sizes. There were even some four-legged friends in attendance, big dogs and small dogs decked out in their very own t-shirts and bandanas. Some brave parents were even pushing strollers and pulling wagons along the three-plus mile courses.
About half-way through the Bedford walk, the cold air really started to settle in as wind blew over the water and onto the Lakeshore Trail. For the walkers, bodies became tired, hands, feet and faces numb, muscles stiff and breathing labored. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, fatigue and numbness are common symptoms of MS, along with walking, balance and coordination problems.
While the disease is complicated, it's most simply defined by the society as a "chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system."
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, from simple numbness to paralysis. One of the most difficult things to understand about MS is the way it attacks different people in different ways: the severity of the symptoms and speed that the disease progresses are unpredictable.
In spite of those challenges, new treatments are being developed every day which offer hope to MS patients.
Those treatments, and that hope can be attributed in part to walks like the ones held around our region this weekend. An afternoon in the cold damp air is a very small sacrifice for a Society that deserves our support. While government funding may be in short supply, the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants is overflowing.
Walkers will be collecting pledges and donations over the next few weeks, and there is still a chance to make donations online at www.NationalMSsociety.org. The MS Society also plans golf events and biking fundraisers to help the cause - a chance for everyone to get involved - walk, bike or tee off in the quest to rid the world of MS.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.