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‘Living a healthy future’: Canadian speed skaters team up for MS Bike Tour


On June 7-8 several Canadian speed skaters will once again participate in the MS Bike Tour, a two-day 180-km trip from Airdrie to Olds and back, to help build more awareness of Multiple Sclerosis and to raise as much money as possible for MS research. They will do so as members of Team Tazza, consisting of speed skaters as well as other athletes. Captain of this team is 22-year-old speed skater Crystal Phillips, who was diagnosed with MS herself a little over two years ago.


By Jolanda Abbes


Crystal Phillips looks back on some life-changing years. After she had her first ‘attack’ in June 2005, at the young age of 19, she was officially diagnosed with MS in February 2006. MS is a disease of the central nervous system that affects vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. Since November 2006 Phillips has been in remission, but despite the fact that she had no more relapses since that time, she is still forced to always take her condition into consideration: “Since my last relapse, I have made many dietary changes and continue to take an injection every day. Besides that, I still deal with symptoms that come and go on a day-to-day basis, like fatigue, sensory changes, muscle spasms and numbness in my legs. The more tired or stressed I am, the more predominant the symptoms are.”


However, where for many people a situation like this might have been a reason to throw in the towel, Phillips is determined to not let her condition get her down. Consequently, she looks back on a busy year, during which she tried to find a balance between speed skating, school, a job and her MS: “I decided to take on a little more than usual this past year and added full-time school at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition along with my part-time job in marketing for ING and, of course, continuing training for speed skating at an elite level. I will be graduating as a natural nutritionist in July 2008. My year has been relapse free and I feel great.” Still, Phillips admits to the fact that her busy schedule this last year may have influenced her speed skating results: “My skating results suffered a little this past year, but I had so much fun skating with my good friends and working with a great coach, Mark Wild. I learned a lot working with Mark and am really looking forward to next year when I will be graduated from school and will be able to focus more on my training.”



It is obvious that, even though it may not always be easy, Phillips seems to have found a way to balance her life and MS. In fact, she realizes that to some extent MS has even had a positive influence on her life: “I am thankful for the mental strengths that I have gained through coping with MS, because I have learned how to use them in every area of my life. I really do believe that things happen for a reason. I have learned a lot about myself and embrace and learn from, rather than fight the challenges that MS brings.”


One way of embracing these challenges was to get involved in organizing a team for the MS Bike Tour in 2006, only a couple of months after she was diagnosed with MS herself. And even though it was the first time she organized a team for the Bike Tour, that team (called MS Helia) was able to raise $56,000, which is the most a rookie team has ever raised. As a result, the MS Helia team won the title of Top Fundraising Rookie Team of the year 2006. Moreover, with 80 members, that team was the second-largest team in Canada. In 2007, the MS Helia team was even more successful, with 90 members and $65,000 being raised. With this continuous improvement, it should come as no surprise that this year the bar will be raised even higher. Phillips: “I think a goal of 100 members and $75,000 is achievable."


In this effort, Phillips is supported by family members, co-workers and friends, including several speed skaters. Among them will be long track speed skater Jay Morrison, who was a member of the first MS Helia team in 2006, but was in hospital for the duration of the 2007 Tour: “I never knew what MS was until Crystal contracted the autoimmune condition. When I heard about the MS Bike Tour I thought it was a great idea. I got involved because the goal is to raise money to go towards research into this highly unexplainable disorder. Hopefully this type of research and learning can one day lead to answers about prevention, treatment... cure!?”



This year, Phillips is looking forward to several novelties when it comes to her team for the MS Bike Tour. Not only did she change the name of the team from ‘MS Helia’ to ‘Team Tazza’ (due to a new sponsor), she also decided on a team quote: ‘Living a healthy future’. But maybe most importantly, this year she is looking forward to getting people involved in other ways than just participating in the Bike Tour itself: “I am excited about starting an organizing committee to help me out with planning fundraising events leading up to the Tour. I see it as another form of team building and involving my team members at an organizational level as well as participating.” This new aspect of the Bike Tour gives people who will not be able to participate in the Tour itself, an opportunity to help out in other ways.


One of these people is Olympic silver- and bronze-medalist short track speed skater Alanna Kraus: “I am going to be helping out Crystal by being a part of the organizing committee. Basically this involves anything she needs me to do! Plus, any media requests she has to help bring awareness to the Bike Tour.” Like Morrison, Kraus also got involved in the Bike Tour when Phillips organized a team for the first time: “Two years ago Crystal asked me if I would like to participate and I jumped on the opportunity. I think the Bike Tour is important because it is a very small way in which I can show Crystal my support. Moreover, it brings awareness and raises money for the MS Society. Plus it's an amazing team building event and it is so much fun!”


That indeed the athletes are thoroughly enjoying their participation in the Bike Tour, shows Morrison’s account of the Tour itself and his personal highlight of the event: “Even though somewhat of a boring route, the riding is still very fun. The event is two days, the first day riding out to Olds from Airdrie, and the second day back. The night in Olds is always a fun time. There is a dinner and dance and we all stay at the college dorms. The highlight of the Tour, though... is probably the snack stands that they have every 15-20 km supplied with Purdy's chocolates and other amazing treats!” Is it a coincidence that Kraus’ highlight of the Bike Tour involves food as well...? “I love stopping at the lunch stop and just hanging out with everyone. The volunteers are always great, the food is delicious and they even had a live performer one year who played the guitar and sang for us.”



Besides the fact that the Bike Tour is an event that is much enjoyed by its participants, for the athletes involved it is also a fun way to get some training under their belt, as Kraus explains: “For many of us, we can use the MS Bike Tour as training, but it is not just for high performance athletes. Anyone can participate, young and old, any fitness level, and every shape and size!” So even though Team Tazza consists of some of the fastest Canadian speed skaters, these athletes will be riding side by side with people of all ages and all fitness levels, as Phillips emphasizes when she talks about some of the people that have already signed up for this year’s Tour: “I am excited to have three generations in my family participating: my grandma, mom and me, as well as my two sisters and dad!”


Still, despite the good food and great fun, most important is the money that is needed for MS research and this Bike Tour is a great way to get people to donate and make them more aware of MS. Phillips: “Calgary is one of the top research centers in the world for MS and needs funds to continue to build off all the discoveries. They have made discoveries in the past couple of years like when a scientist at the University of Calgary discovered a hormone in pregnant women that stops the progression in MS.” Since 90% of the money for researching MS comes from pledges and donations in events such as the MS Bike Tour, it is important that people continue to donate to events like this.


Interested in helping Team Tazza reach its goal of raising $75,000? See: https://msofs.mssociety.ca/2008Bike/SponsorTeam.aspx?PID=1019949&L=2&G=700175

For more information on MS, see: http://www.mscalgary.org/


For more information on Team Tazza, see: http://www.myspace.com/teamtazza

For more information on Team Tazza’s sponsor, see: http://www.tazzafresh.com/


Photos 1-3: Photos from 2007 MS Bike Tour
Credits: submitted by Crystal Phillips




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