Building Awareness, Raising Funds at Challenge Walk MS

Challenge Walk MS: Door County steps off Sept. 23

The weekend of Sept. 23-25 isn’t just another weekend in Door County. At least, not to Pat Heller.

“It is a weekend that it’s OK to have MS,” said Heller, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2005.

This year’s event will mark the 15th anniversary of Challenge Walk MS, a fundraising event for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The walk, which takes place over three days, is an opportunity for people living with MS, like Heller – as well as their families, friends, caregivers and the community – to raise both awareness and research funds. 

“When you’re newly diagnosed, it’s terrifying,” she said. “It’s scary, and you’re not sure what is going to happen.” 

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system begins to attack the central nervous system, and the resulting nerve damage causes a disruption in signals to and from the brain. Symptoms vary from person to person, both in type and severity, but they can include numbness, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and/or paralysis. The exact cause of MS is unknown. 

Participants in the walk often dress up in costume and plow through the miles rain or shine. Submitted.

Shortly after Heller was diagnosed, she left her job as a principal in Muskego, Wisconsin, and in 2007, she and her husband, Tom, moved to Door County. Although MS took away some things, it also gave Heller a newfound sense of purpose to make a difference. 

“There are a lot of things I can’t do or I have had to give up that I can’t do anymore,” she said. “I often get asked why I do what I do for MS, and my answer is because I can do it.”
Although physical limitations prevent Heller from walking in the event, she has found other ways to contribute, including designing and making greeting cards that are sold online and at local retail stores.

“All the profit goes to MS,” she said. And with almost 100% of the card-making materials being donated, the majority of the sales goes toward Heller’s fundraising efforts. 

She said this “has taught me to find the things you can do, and jump in, and find a place to help out.”

The 2022 walk organizers expect to see about 150 participants, who will walk up to 50 miles throughout the county with the goal of raising more than $300,000. 

“It’s a small group, but we’re on track to hit that goal,” said Joe Holtman, senior manager of emerging events for the National MS Society.

With more than 90% of the event’s participants having a direct relationship with MS – either living with the disease themselves or having a family member with MS – the walk is an opportunity to not only raise important fundraising dollars, but also to provide a sense of community. “A lot of the weekend is about building that awareness of MS,” Holtman said, “but it’s also about the smile. In fact, we even say, ‘It’s not about the miles; it’s about the smiles.’ It’s a special weekend for people to just be a part of a community and know that they aren’t alone.”

Find out more about the MS Challenge Walk: Door County at