NORTH OGDEN -- Kent Packer said he will be riding his bike with 3,000 of his closest friends this weekend.
The 53-year-old North Ogden resident is participating in the 27th annual Bike MS: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride in Cache Valley on Saturday and Sunday.
The ride, hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Utah and South Idaho, raises money for research to find a cure as well as local programs and services for Utahns affected by MS.
The bike ride began in 1986 before there were any treatments available for those with MS. Today, 10 disease-modifying therapies are changing the course of the disease and providing better quality of life for those living with the disease, said Juliann Fritz, communications manager for the National MS Society.
"This is the fourth year I've participated in the bike ride," Packer said. "About five years ago, I was having a lot of vision problems and fatigue, and they were compounded by physical stress. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis."
Packer said he treats himself with a daily injection aimed at controlling the disease.
"It feels like a daily bee sting, but it's keeping me on a steady course," he said. "When I was diagnosed, I changed the initials of MS to 'more strength.' My wife and I knew we would have some major challenges ahead of us, so we decided we were going to make this as positive as possible, and we were going to rely on faith, family and friends."
During the ride, Packer will be wearing a jersey with the logo, "I Ride with MS." The logo is based on the mission-based program that is part of the National MS Society's Bike MS series that celebrates participating cyclists who are living with MS, Fritz said.
By providing visibility to riders living with MS, "I Ride with MS" personalizes the disease and more strongly connects all cyclists, inspiring and empowering them to pedal a bit harder along their journeys, Fritz said.
The ride's major sponsor is Harmons Grocery. Owner Bob Harmon said the company began participating 16 years ago when they were asked to donate food for the walk events in Salt Lake City. Three years later, Bob's wife, L.J., was diagnosed with the disease.
"We were always happy to be involved with the MS events, and then when my wife was diagnosed, it became even more passionate for me," he said.
"These events are very powerful and inspiring. You're up there with all the same people who have a common goal. You get together and connect and share stories. It's just an amazing experience."
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Symptoms are very individual and can include numbness, tingling, tremors, fatigue, blindness, paralysis, muscle spasms, balance and coordination problems, dizziness, bowel and bladder dysfunction, cognitive problems, depression and pain.
"This disease touches so many people's lives," Packer said. "It doesn't just impact the person who is sick. It impacts the entire family. I ride because I still can, and I want to do everything I can to bring awareness of those who are suffering, so we can understand it better and come up with a cure."