September 18, 2002
Chip Malafronte, Register Staff
After she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996, Lisa Peck instinctively recalled haunting images from her childhood.
An aunt stricken with chronic progressive MS had to use a wheelchair and was admitted to a convalescent home at a young age.
"I was worried at first that was the course I was headed down," Peck said.
Yet the disease certainly hasn't slowed Peck, a Salt Lake City, Utah, attorney who grew up in Hamden. In fact, she's accelerated the pace of her life since the diagnosis by becoming a professional cyclist.
Peck, 36, began racing professionally as a mountain biker and road cyclist a year after she learned she had MS.
She will return to Connecticut and be among 225 cyclists leaving Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison on Saturday for a two-day tour along Connecticut's shoreline and country roads to raise money and awareness about MS.
The journey will conclude at Sunrise Resort in Moodus, where cyclists will attend an overnight party.
On Sunday morning, the group will set out to pedal back to Hammonasset.
Peck will serve as the tour's motivational speaker, discussing her own struggles adjusting to life with the disease.
All money raised from the tour will be donated to fund research and services for people in Connecticut with multiple sclerosis.
A chronic disease of the central nervous system, MS affects more than 400,000 people in North America. Often disabling, symptoms may be mild at first.
Peck's initial symptoms began in 1990 and included blackouts, numbness and vertigo. Later, she experienced petit mal seizures — attacks of unconsciousness without convulsions that are an unusual trait of people with MS.
"I went six years without a diagnosis," Peck said. "Untreated, MS will continue to progress behind the scenes. The symptoms are like the tip of an iceberg, and there's a lot more under the surface you don't know about. You want to slow the progression as much as possible." The physical and emotional effects of the disease can be as unpredictable as the symptoms, while the progress and severity of MS also varies from person to person.
With medication to control the harshness of her symptoms, Peck is capable of withstanding a hectic work schedule as a lawyer, a career that demands all of her cognitive resources. She is also able to remain in peak physical condition to train and race.
A multiple-sport athlete at Hopkins School and Amherst College, Peck started biking recreationally while in law school at the University of Utah.
She began racing competitively after law school and decided to turn pro in 1997.
Last year, Peck was sixth at the Masters World Mountain Biking Championships in Canada.
Last year, she became the first woman to finish LOTOJA, the longest one-day road race in America sanctioned by the U.S. Cycling Federation and was named Utah's Female Mountain Biker of the Year.
"Continuing to race with MS is terrific," said Jane Ferketic of the National MS Society's Connecticut chapter.
"Her symptoms are not as pronounced. It shows how different MS can be for different people. But for her to be able to cycle is quite a feat."
Of course, the disease occasionally hampers Peck at inopportune moments.
Last weekend, Peck was in position to defend her title at LOTOJA — a grueling 203-mile trek from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming — when she suffered a seizure with more than 100 miles remaining.
But Peck still finished the race.
"A lot of it was just not wanting to give up," Peck said. "I didn't win the race, but I won the challenge.
It was a more satisfying feeling just to finish that race."
While multiple sclerosis has been a key motivator in Peck's cycling career, cycling has played a crucial part in helping her curtail the disease.
"Psychologically, (cycling) is the best weapon I've got in my arsenal,"
Peck said. "It has kept me healthy both mentally and physically."
© New Haven Register 2002