All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for May 2003

He Wants MS to Take a Walk

Using Internet, Man And Friends Lead Charge Against Dreaded Disease

May 6, 2003
Susan Lindt
Intelligencer Journal Lancaster, PA

If the tarnished image of the online gaming community is ever redeemed, it might owe a lot of thanks to Shawn Williams and his fight against multiple sclerosis.

The Lancaster resident is an admitted online game geek, but he fervently denies all -- OK, most -- of the bad things people say about the gaming community, a much-maligned, if not totally misunderstood, cadre of computer-savvy players linked by little more than a DSL.

So when Williams' wife, Becky, 27, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, before they were married, he devised a plan to gather pledges for his first MS Walk from the gaming community he knows so well, but most of whom he's never met in person.

Williams began posting on Internet sites frequented by gamers information about the MS Walk, which raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He gave them a way to pledge if they wanted, and in some cases, very personal stories about the struggles a person with MS deals with every day.

"I expected -- hoped -- to get $100," Williams said. "But when we logged on, it just kept building and building. The pledges just kept coming."

By the end of that year's MS Walk, Williams had collected $10,400 from friends and strangers who saw the Williamses' story online and decided to make a pledge. Williams was shocked.

"Most of these people have no idea who I am," he said. "They never even met me. Suddenly, it got really weird and awe-inspiring. Becky and I got so many e-mails these people were sending to us talking about what they're going through with their own problems. It made what we were going through seem like nothing compared with some of their stories. It's just an amazing community."

In the second year's campaign, the Williamses raised $8,600. It appears the third year of campaigning on the Internet, although it's not all tallied yet, has brought in $6,000-plus in donations.

"I had this concept that I would get more every year," Williams said, a trace of disappointment in his voice. "Instead, I've been doing the exact opposite. I feel like I failed."

You couldn't have told that to the people at Universal Athletic Club Sunday who were cheering on the Williamses as they crossed the finish line for MS Walk 2003, Becky in her team's T-shirt, Shawn in a homemade costume created just for the occasion -- a giant barrel of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. The flavor: Cure Concoction. The ingredients: government funding, compassion, legislative backing, love and support of family and friends...

Williams said it hasn't been easy to ask people over the Internet to make a pledge because it means putting out personal information about Becky's health and their lives.

"I was so worried that nobody would give a crap," Williams, 32, said. "There are some bad apples out there, so I was really bracing myself for what could happen when I put my information out. But instead, we got this huge outpouring of letters and pledge money. But more than the money, I couldn't believe the sympathy that was shown by gamers."

Williams has garnered several $1,000 pledges and also has received sponsorships from companies in the gaming industry.

For all their hard work, the Williamses helped boost their walk team (called into the top local position for money raised by a friends-and-family team.

This year's walk brought out 407 walkers who raised $66,610, and Williams and his costume were the hit, as fathers brought their children over to get pictures with the guy in the Ben and Jerry's get- up and a DJ sang his praises as he came across the finish line.

And while he's proud to be doing something great for the fight against MS, Williams doesn't miss a chance to plug the people who made it happen: the gamers.

"There's just such a negative stigma with someone who plays video games, especially after something like Columbine happens," Williams said. "But I've gotten lots of e-mails of support from the gamers saying that it's great we're doing this because nobody listens when gamers do something positive. All they want to do is jump on the antisocial-behavior game wagon.

"But the truth is, the gaming community is special, and there are compassionate people out there."
© 2003 Intelligencer Journal Lancaster, PA