Riding For MS: Door County Riders Nearing $1 Million Mark

In the late 1980s, a group of Door County snowmobilers participated in their annual weeklong ride in Upper Michigan and along the way ran into another group.

The riders from Casco weren’t just out riding for fun but, rather, to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research. That chance encounter spurred the group to start a ride of their own for MS research in 1989.

Nearly 23 years since the Door County group started the ride, the MS Snowmobile Tour has raised $928,248.63, with 85 cents from every dollar going to MS research.

For one weekend next winter, January 26 – 29, 2012, the snowmobilers will put 500 miles on their sleds in Carter, Wis. For the last five years, the group led by Sturgeon Bay business owners Bob Schmidt and Paul Stoltman have started their journey from the Potawatomi Carter Casino Hotel and wound their way through the trails of northern Wisconsin.

The disease

Approximately 10,000 Wisconsinites have MS, a disease that attacks myelin, which is the fatty tissue insulating nerve endings, according to the National MS Society.

As a result of the attacks on myelin, the nerve endings respond slower in the brain, causing relapsing symptom flares during the first phase of the disease, known as the relapsing remitting phase, according to University of Wisconsin – Madison professor Ian Duncan. Treatments are effective during the first phase and help lessen the frequency of relapses.

Patients recover less completely when the symptom flares reoccur, and by the time they’ve entered the second phase of the disease, recovery is impossible, Duncan said. The damage done once patients reach the second phase is too significant to be treated, and as a result, patients rely on walkers and wheelchairs.

It’s unclear exactly what causes MS. Research is focused on immunology, epidemiology (which looks at patterns of disease in the population) and genetics. It has been known to occur more frequently in areas farther from the equator, causing some scientists to look into a relationship between MS and a lack of vitamin D, which the body gets naturally from sunlight.

Riding for a reason

Schmidt, owner of Door Peninsula Sales & Service, and Stoltman, owner of the Neighborhood Pub & Grill, are the two most active fundraisers of the Door County riders. Stoltman has already raised $3,000 for the 2012 ride.

Part of the original group that started the Door County ride, Schmidt said he didn’t know anything about MS before riding in support of it. Through the years though, Schmidt said he’s had family members contract the disease, and met so many others with it, that he keeps riding.

Stoltman joined the group upon moving to Door County 15 years ago, he said. His involvement with MS snowmobile rides extends back 27 years, however, to when he first moved to Minnesota.

“I wanted to go snowmobiling way up north, and I went to a sporting goods show and the MS Society had a booth that described the event they were putting on for MS,” Stoltman said. “I jumped on it right away.”

Stoltman has a personal connection to the disease as well. His sister has MS, making his involvement in the ride as much about her as about his love of snowmobiling.

In 2011, 18 Door County residents participated in the ride, but since the first four rode in 1989, the ride has evolved over the years.

When the Door Drifters Snowmobile Club sponsored the ride in the 1990s, the riders circled Lake Superior.

“It was called the Ride from Hell,” Schmidt said, describing the cold weather, breakdowns and injuries they ran into along the way. Of the 18 people who started the journey, only 14 finished.

In those days, Ryerson Inc. donated a snowmobile to the club that raised the most money, with the Door Drifters earning nine new snowmobiles for their efforts.

The group rode from Sturgeon Bay to Canada and back in eight days in 2002, traveling 1,800 miles. Along the way they crashed a wedding, which Schmidt and Stoltman recall with smiles.

“We got to dance with the bride,” Schmidt said.

These days the ride is slightly more tame, with the group covering 500 miles. Schmidt and Stoltman usually go on secondary fundraising rides, lifting the total miles to 1,000 each year.

While they won’t reach $1 million raised this year, Schmidt said they expect to hit the milestone next year.

The group is always looking for new riders, but if you want to get involved and aren’t interested in riding, they are always looking for donations. Contact Schmidt at 920.256.3035 or Stoltman at the Neighborhood Pub & Grill at 920.743.7018 about donating to or participating in the ride.