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Fundraiser of the Month - Sharon Asher

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Congratulations to Sharon Asher who is this May's Fundraiser of the Month! Back in September, Sharon travelled to Scotland to cycle the slopes around the shores of the famous Loch Ness in aid of MS-UK. We caught up with her recently so she could tell us what it was like to take on a gruelling 65-mile cycle race with no previous cycling experience...

I signed up to the Etape Loch Ness cycle event last September. A close friend had decided that we would become the 'Invernairne Try Team', a team of four who would undertake challenges to test ourselves and keep fit. The initial plan was to try a triathlon, but somehow we ended up entering the Etape Loch Ness, a 65-mile cycle event that starts and finishes in Inverness, and which takes 5,600 cyclists around Loch Ness, offering spectacular views and scenery alongside some physically and mentally challenging climbs. I decided that if I was going to attempt it, I should try to raise money for a charitable cause and I chose MS-UK. Thankfully, deciding to ride for a cause kept me going to the finish line.  

My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1973 when I was ten years old. Back then there was little in the way of help and support and life wasn’t easy for my mum or us as a family. Sadly my brother has recently been diagnosed with MS but hopefully, with advances in research, medication, therapy, and support, his experience will be a lot more positive. I also think that by fundraising it has brought awareness to the fact that my brother has the condition and recognition of the issues faced by those diagnosed with what is often a misunderstood condition. 

I chose MS-UK because they support and encourage those with MS to continue to live life and challenge themselves. They also offer invaluable support through the MS-UK Helpline, MS-UK Counselling and the excellent magazine, New Pathways. I feel that if we previously had access to some of the services offered by MS-UK, life for us a family might have been a little easier.  

I think the biggest challenge was the fact that neither the rest of my team or I were experienced cyclists. We were all quite fit for our respective ages but most of our training over the winter had to be indoors, as with short days and icy mornings we couldn’t really get out on the bikes until March. We also had the challenge of the five-mile hill hanging over us, and all we could do was push ourselves on indoor bikes with no idea what lay in store. 

When we finally hit the road on the day, we had survived a few crashes and miscommunications, learned how to change a bike tyre, and stocked up with jelly beans to keep us going, but the furthest we had cycled was 40 miles. Thankfully the weather was kind and we all managed to complete it without any disasters. My indoor training really paid off and I am delighted to report that I finished in the middle of the pack and managed to stay on my bike up the five-mile climb. It was tough though and I was so relieved to hear the piper who welcomes riders to the top. Never has the sound of bagpipes been so welcome!

From then on it was almost all downhill, with a few nasty but shorter climbs thrown in to keep you focused. Thankfully the road home was dotted with fabulous volunteers - their encouragement was invaluable to seeing us all home. 

Would I do it again? Well, I did it enjoy it and I’ve registered interest for next year. I don’t have to make my mind up until September, but it would be a shame not to tackle it again with a bit more training and experience. However, having said that, we’ve still got a triathlon to attempt and as I’m a rubbish swimmer, the next challenge may have to be in the swimming pool. To be honest, I think I’d rather tackle that hill again! 

I have always felt that it is important to challenge yourself, and while I am fortunate to be fit and healthy enough to take on new challenges, I’ll continue to try new things. Hopefully, the money raised, with the help of MS-UK, will encourage those with MS to not give up, find ways to make the most of life and overcome their personal challenges. 

For fundraising, I used JustGiving, mainly because it makes it easy to share your page on social media and enables you to post updates to keep your donors informed. It also deals with Gift Aid, which added another £500 to my fund. Emailing the link to my friends and family and sharing updates on Facebook was invaluable. I also feel that it is essential to thank your donors personally and I took time to thank them individually on Facebook and by email if I had their email address. 

Do something different for MS-UK!

If you would like to try your hand at fundraising for MS-UK, contact Lucy on 01206 226 500, or email lucy@ms-uk.org.