When the MS 150 bike ride takes off for Duluth in June, the Zylstra family will have a particularly strong reason to support the riders — or to race across the state themselves.
Darlene Zylstra of Maple Lake has battled multiple sclerosis for more than 25 years. She’ll be at the finish line with husband, Dave, cheering folks on.
Among the passing peddlers will be son Joe Zylstra of Annandale, diagnosed with MS last year.
Meanwhile, daughter Kelly Zylstra Johnson will be setting up a tent and refreshments: She was diagnosed four years ago.
Add in spouses and the Zylstra team is among the many families who have made the MS rides and walks a family affair. This family just has more at stake.
“We had been riding [the MS 150] for about eight years to support my mom: After I was diagnosed it became even more important,” said Zylstra Johnson, 36, who usually bikes with her sister Alison Menk and other family members.
“Then when my brother was diagnosed, the fight to find a cure was even greater.”
Although three people with MS in one family is not typical, it is not unique, said Johnson, adding that both genetic and environmental factors have been linked to the disease.
The walks and rides have become a Minnesota tradition. Last weekend, 10,000 Minnesotans participated in Walk MS. The events provide an informal way for folks to network, and a critical tool for fundraising.
Darlene Zylstra, for example, estimates she’s raised about $24,000 over the years as a member of Hoigaard’s team, Spokes of Hope. She’s also become an MS Society mentor and advocate for young adults.
Holly Anderson, Upper Midwest Chapter president of the National MS Society, said about 80 percent of the chapter’s $9.5 million budget comes from these events. “It’s a way for families to rally around a family member.”
For her part, Johnson hopes to get back in the saddle and do even more next year. A foot injury kept her off the bike this year. Said Johnson: “I’m really looking forward to that.”