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A View From The Other Side

You probably don't know me.  My name is Jim KE5TQT.  , I'm a new ham operator and TX-MARC's newest MARC member.  In 2004, my wife Sandra was diagnosed with MS. Three years later, in April, 2006, I found myself atop a road bike with one of those tiny saddles.  I laughingly told my congregation that they would probably have to surgically remove it after the BP MS-150 mile ride from Houston to Austin.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I'm the Christian Education Pastor at Sugar Land Bible Church in Sugar Land, Texas.  Crossing the finish line in Austin and seeing my wife frantically waving and shouting through her tears, was a truly emotional experience.  I was hooked and determined that I would ride each year until I couldn't ride any longer. 2007 was basically a carbon copy of the previous year's ride with the exception of a little more experience on a road bike and a greater appreciation for those who make the BP MS-150 happen.

Registration for the 2008 BP MS-150 opened up and I registered the first day. Good thing too because registration closed 11 days later!  For some reason, getting prepared for this year's tour was extremely difficult.  Between ongoing bouts with sinus infections, colds, and bad weather, it looked like this time I was not going to be as well prepared as I had been in the previous two years.  Then it happened.  A neuroma that I had been "living" with for the past 8 years flared up, effectively ending my hopes of riding my road bike in this year's tour.  But, since I have a personal interest in the efforts of the MS Society, I decided that I needed to investigate the possibilities of volunteering in another capacity.  In 2006, I decided to purchase a new Honda 1800cc Gold Wing.  I had always dreamed of having one ever since they first came out back in 1975.  Now I have one and I was determined to enjoy it.  And I did. In 2007 a buddy and I rode our Gold Wings to Billings, Montana for the annual GWRRA Wing Ding.  While it was fun, it was also unbearably hot, but that's another story for another time.  As I indicated above, I had ridden my bicycle in the BP MS-150 that last two years and I was somewhat dishearten when I discovered that I was going to have to have surgery on my left foot...something that would keep me from riding a bicycle this year.
As I began looking for some way to contribute, a friend suggested that I look into volunteering as one of those guys that rides their motorcycle during the tour.  In February I went out to the MS-150 website filled out and sent in my volunteer form.  I was contacted by email by one of the MS-150 staff members who told me they would forward my form to the Motorcycle Marshal Coordinator, Jerry WA GLD. They also indicated that the "team" was full and the likelihood of my becoming a part of the team, was pretty slim.

A few days later I received another email, this time from Jerry WA GLD, (Mr. Motorcycle 1).  Suffice it to say that this was the first, "thanks, but no thank you" email I had ever received. Not to be deterred, I replied indicating that I realized that it was too late for me to work this year's tour but that I was also interested in helping out with other events and that if an opening came up, I would like to be considered.  I also asked about what the basic requirements were to become a Motorcycle Marshal.  Jerry responded by telling me that it was highly unlikely that there would be an opening for me since nobody drops off the team once they're on it, but, if I was really interested, I should consider joining MARC to learn as much as I could about the ham radio/motorcycle world, I
should obtain a Ham license, and I would need to obtain all the appropriate gear including of course, a radio, an antenna, lights, etc.  My wife, speaking about me, has often said that she has never seen anyone as dedicated and focused as I am when I set my mind to do something.  I have never given it much thought. I just like to set and accomplish goals so as soon as I found out what the requirements were I set myself to the task of fulfilling them.

First off, as already noted, Jerry suggested that I join MARC.  That was an excellent recommendation and proved to be a real blessing as I sought to enter this new mysterious world of ham radios and motorcycles.  Next was obtaining my FCC Ham Radio Technician's License.  I found out from Jerry that I had just missed his Technician's Level Class so I asked him if I could get his materials to study. He graciously sent me the goods and along with the practice exams I found on the web, I set myself to preparing for the exam.  Around the middle of March I found myself sitting in a room with ten or so other people and twenty minutes later, walked out with my new license.  I was told I had made a perfect score  Thanks Jerry!

The next step was securing a radio. Once again Jerry pointed me in the right direction suggesting that I try to get an ICOM 2720H or a Kenwood TM- D700A.  I found a sweet deal on an ICOM 2720H on Ebay.  What about an antenna, mount, cables, etc.?  Mr. MARC, Ray KD6FHN to the rescue.  As a new MARC member, I placed an order with him at the member's discounted price and awaited the arrival of my goods.  Now all the parts were either in hand or on the way but I had no clue as to what to do with them. A quick call to Jerry and I was lined up with Senior Motorcycle Staff Member, Mitch W5MQS.  Mitch and I made plans to meet once everything was on site so that he could help me get everything installed. 
By this time Jerry realized that I was serious about this marshaling thing and he told me that if I could get all of the requirements completed before the BP MS-150, he would see if he could get me on the team this year, but there were no guarantees.  Needless to say, I was highly motivated before but this sent me over the edge.

One of the last two requirements was an educational class with Jerry in order to go over the fine points of marshaling a ride, but when to do it?  By now there were only two weeks left until the big ride and there were only two bike rides left before the big event, the Fort Bend Education Expedition and the Space Race. The first ride was on a Saturday and I was there early and ready to go, even though I still didn't have my radio installed.  Jerry and I managed to squeeze some time in and we got the classroom portion of the requirements out of the way. Yeah, Baby!  Another requirement bites the dust.  Finishing the classroom training Jerry suggested we log on the FCC web site real quick with his wireless card to see if my FCC Ham Radio call sign had been issued overnight.  There it was!!! KE5TQT.

Mitch and
I finally got together and got my radio installed.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Jerry then told me that he really wanted me to come out for the Space Race because it would be the last opportunity I would have to actually experience marshalling with a full blown Ham Network up and running. There was just one problem.  The Space Race was on a Sunday and an hour away from where I live.  Did I mention that I am a Pastor?  This was the last requirement and I was determined not to fail so I started calculating.. I get out of church at 12:30 pm.  The earliest I can get there is 1:30pm and that  will be pushing it. No matter it has to be done. Fortunately for me, I was able to leave immediately after Sunday School so I actually gained an hour.  I met Jerry and the rest of the gang at 12:30pm and helped marshal the ride until it closed down at about 5:30pm.  All requirements fulfilled with one week to go before the big event!  God was good. I was bushed after the Space Race and ready to head to the house. Just before I left, Jerry came over and told me that due to the determination and obvious commitment I had made, the board had decided to make an exception and let me join the team. Oh, and, I would be riding in the big event, the BP MS-150 the following Saturday. Awesome! 

Saturday, April 11th , I found myself lined up in front of Rhodes Stadium in Katy, TX with a great group of experienced marshals, none of whom had a clue of who I was.  Per Jerry's instructions, I offered up the blessing of the bikes (must of worked, no mechanical problems at all - whew!) and we were off.

For two days I had a tremendous time helping cyclists who had no idea I was actually one of them and I got more grease on my hands during this tour than the previous two combined. Note to self , carry hand cleaner and paper towels next year.

The highlight of course was "bringing in the turtle (last bicycle on the ride)." Jerry told me this would be a very emotional event and he was right on two accounts - first of all by bringing the last rider home with horns blaring and lights flashing, and second - upon seeing the face of my precious wife, with tears streaming down her face, straining to find me in the group.

As I indicated earlier, my wife, Sandra, has MS and although she has been at the finish line the last two years, this one was especially meaningful to her.  As she drove out of La Grange to Austin on the second day of the tour, she found herself riding along side of thousands of cyclists and volunteers and while she knew of their involvement she suddenly was confronted with the reality of their involvement - many cyclist were off to the side of the road - some hurling their cookies, some rubbing sore muscles - some walking their bikes. It overwhelmed her. She slowed, rolled her window down, and found herself through her tears, yelling out encouragement to everyone she saw.  At one point she called me on my cell to tell me that there had been a bad crash and would I make sure they were attended to - yes Dear, I'll double back and check on them.

For the first time, the magnitude of the effort put forth on "her" behalf in the MS-150, came home to her.  Those of us who have participated in any way know about this Herculean effort for two days in April. Now she too knows and she will not be the same.

So we brought the turtle home. The tour was over, and it was time to relax and shoot the breeze in the beautiful Austin Downtown Omni lounge where a group of thirty to forty motorcycle volunteer marshals now gather on the Sunday evening following the MS150 to "discuss" the weekend's event.  I came down and made a short appearance. I hope no one took offense at that.  I was pretty tired and more importantly so was Sandra.  Monday morning would arrive early and I was all about breakfast with the guys, an opportunity to get to know some of these men and ladies better, and a leisurely ride home through the hill country so we went to bed shortly thereafter.

Sandra woke up at 5:00 am with a horrible migraine, more than likely brought on by over exertion, so the plans changed.  I was disappointed but with MS you learn to live with these types of inconveniences.  By 10:00 am, she said she was feeling a little better, but I told her we should stay at the hotel until noon if she needed to.  She wouldn't hear of that and insisted that we head home - she in the car and I on the "best" touring bike known to man, my 2006 Honda Gold Wing GL1800.

We had just reached the outskirts of Austin on Hwy 71 when it happened. Sandra had a major MS episode.  These episodes vary for sufferers of MS and you never really know what the manifestations will be. In her case, it was complete numbness on both sides which scared her so badly that she had a panic attack too.

We managed to get off of the highway and into an Exxon station parking area to assess the situation.  The symptoms began to subside some so I decided that the best plan of action was to get our daughter and her husband to drive up from Houston.  When they arrived our daughter jumped in the driver's seat and with mom reclining in the front and the new grand baby in the back, off we went.  We arrived home in Sugar Land at about 6:30 pm.  Needless to say, we thanked and praised the Lord for getting us safely home.  (By the way, ask me about my new granddaughter - Jade Michelle Chang.)

It's funny how things change from moment to moment in our lives.  One minute we were basking in the joys of another successful BP MS-150 and the next we were praying for direction in how to best deal with our situation on the side of the road.

Tuesday morning after the tour we went to the doctor for a quick check up.  The doctor tells us that Sandra can expect more of the same in the future, handed her some sample medications, and out the door we went.

My reason for sharing this with you all is that I want to let all of you who work MS rides know how very special you are to me and my wife personally and also to try to emphasize the importance of what you are doing.  Sandra was diagnosed in 2004 and is just one of many thousands of MS sufferers in Texas.  We are not unique; our story could be told over and over again by other MS sufferers.

Your participation each year helps raise millions of dollars which goes toward research to find a cure for MS, Sandra's and my MS.  I say my MS because this disease affects entire families.

In this not so short message, I wanted to thank you for Sandra. So thank you for your time, your donations, and your volunteer efforts.  There is at least one Texas gal who directly benefits from it.  And thank you from me too.  Riding in this year's tour was a richly rewarding experience and one I hope, Lord willing, to reenact over and over again.

Jim McGowan, Th.D.      C.E. Pastor    Sugar Land Bible Church
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