MS-stricken bicyclist pedals his charity across the continent - He said he will donate all the money he raises to the Blue Ridge MS Society and use his own money for travel expenses.
Monday, April 01, 2002
By MIKE AGNELLO
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Bouts with three debilitating diseases have left him with a noticeable limp, two fewer toes and sporadic tingling and numbness all over his body.
But none of this can stop Roanoke's Kenny Wingfield.
Wingfield, 45, suffers from multiple sclerosis, an often crippling nerve disease that causes numbness, muscle spasms, slurred speech and sometimes blindness. But Wingfield refuses to give in to the disease, and he will lead a cross-country bicycle ride from Los Angeles to Boston in May to raise money for MS research. At more than 3,000 miles, the trip will challenge the capabilities of all the riders, but especially Wingfield, whose condition is very susceptible to climate changes and physical exertion.
"I would rather try and fail than not try at all," Wingfield said.
In 1999, the federal probation officer participated in a Maine-to-Florida bike trek. Despite suffering severe pains when he reached Virginia, he obtained a prescription for pain medication and kept riding, finishing the 1,500-mile journey.
Trumping medical diagnoses is nothing new to Wingfield. As an adolescent, he contracted polio from a vaccine, and the ensuing surgery severely damaged muscles in his right leg, leaving it shorter than the left. Still, he managed to be an above-average athlete, playing on Patrick Henry High School's 1973 state championship football team and winning trophies for racquetball.
"If I only listened to my body, I wouldn't do half the things I do," Wingfield said.
Wingfield's drive has led him to ignore the advice of several doctors to take medication. Although he does take medicine if he has a flare-up of MS, he does not take it daily and has not had any flare-ups in nearly four years. He said his MS affects him less without medicine. Liz Davis, Wingfield's nurse at Roanoke Neurological Center, said she doesn't recommend this approach for all MS patients but admits it's worked for him.
"He's a little bit of a renegade," Davis said. "But he's got a positive attitude, and that's what keeps him going."
Wingfield uses this determination to help others. An active member of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Blue Ridge Chapter, he donates his time and inspiration to countless charitable events, serving as a role model for patients.
Nancy Simmons, the chapter's development coordinator, said she can always count on Wingfield and his vibrant personality.
"He makes people understand why we need to raise money," Simmons said.
For his upcoming ride, Wingfield has received financial and emotional support from across the country.
Federal and probation officers in Texas and Oklahoma, which Wingfield will ride through, have mailed personal checks. The Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers of America has taken on Wingfield's ride as it annual national charity. Workers in nearly every department in the Poff Federal Building have pooled their money to support him.
Judge Samuel Wilson, chief federal judge for Western Virginia, had to approve the seven-week leave of absence for the trip. Travelocity.com sent him a complimentary plane ticket to Los Angeles, normally costing $1,100, to start the trip. Wingfield, holding back tears, said the support has almost overwhelmed him.
"If you're not touched, you're not human," he said.
Despite the free plane ticket, the trip will cost Wingfield nearly $5,000 of his own money. He will not use any of the donations to cover his travel expenses and will donate all money to the Blue Ridge MS Society.
"The cost is not the issue," Wingfield said. "Everybody has to have a cause, and this is mine."
Readers wishing to sponsor Wingfield's cross-country ride for MS should
contact the Blue Ridge Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society