Under crystal blue skies and puffy clouds, with a soft wind that whooshed bicyclists along, about 9,300 pedal pushers raised $10 million (and counting) in the 35th BP MS150 charity bike ride from Houston to Austin last weekend. The BP MS150 is annually the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s biggest fundraising event of the year and the most profitable two-day charity ride in the world.
Officials say the ride will reach its 2019 goal of $13.5 million by July 31 when all the loose change is counted and soda deposit bottles are returned. Each rider must pledge at least $400 in donations to join the two-wheel posse. The ride has raised more than $277 million since its inaugural event in 1985. BP took over as the sponsor in 2001. There were riders from 249 cities in Texas and 43 states and 11 countries this year.
The BP MS150 attracts experienced, serious riders, who go on 100-mile weekend rides for fun. (That’s them in Spandex shorts and tight colorful shirts and bikes that cost more than their first car.) There are casual bike riders, like me, who pedal to the supermarket on Pee-Wee Herman bikes. We rally once a year for the BP MS150, live to tell about it, and walk like drunks because of chafing for about a week.
A hands-on road warrior
Then there is Douglas Dillard, chief financial officer for DC Partners, a company that builds large scale real estate projects in Texas. Dillard was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that affects his lower extremities.
He uses his arms to propel a handcycle every inch of the way from Houston to Austin, up and over steep hills that reduce many riders to tears and profanity.
Dillard, 40, cannot use his legs to pedal a regular bicycle. So he has a special bike with pedals in front of his belly that he cranks with his arms and core muscles. He is strong. He gets up everyday at 4 am to work out with weights and core intensive activity.
“This was my third BP MS150,” he says. “It’s very emotional for me. It may take me 35 minutes to climb a big hill that makes a lot of riders get off their bikes and walk up the hill. But I power through it. I will keep doing the ride as long as my arms and shoulders hold out.”
Dillard rode Day 1 of the BP MS150 with two other handcyclists: Rick Weisbrod, an Army vet who lost a leg in service, and Adessa Ellis, who was injured in a car accident and entered her first BP MS150 on a handcycle this year. Before her accident, Ellis, a former triathlete, had completed four BP MS150 on a regular bicycle.
Unfortunately, Weisbrod blew out his shoulder and Ellis had mechanical problems on Saturday, so Dillard had to complete the ride by himself on Sunday.
Like 1,000 pushups for eight hours — straight
Dillard says riding 80 miles a day and climbing hills on a handcycle is equal to doing 1,000 pushups an hour for eight hours. If the road is flat, he can scoot along at 14-15 mph. He grunts his way up hills at 3-5 mph.
“It’s not as much a strength issue as an endurance challenge. By the end of each day of the BP MS150, my arms and shoulders are burning. Every drop of my energy is spent. But I will not stop,” he says.
Fellow riders, thousands of them, help Dillard keep his spirits up.
“I’m going kind of slow, so I get passed by everybody. They mostly say, ‘You’re a beast’ or ‘you’re doing great’ or ‘keep it up.’ They encourage me to keep going,” he says. “I keep going.”