Local bicyclist with MS gears up for 175-mile fund-raising ride

Moab resident Katrina Lund will join more than 3,000 fellow bicyclists this weekend in northern Utah’s Cache County, for the “Bike MS: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride 2010.” The June 26-27 ride is a statewide fundraising event to combat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Lund, who was diagnosed with MS just over two years ago, says she rode in the event last year, “when I was still new to MS.”

“I had never done a bike event like that before,” added Lund, who said she found the level of energy and support at the event “amazing and impressive.”

“I’m still searching for the right words to attempt to describe it,” Lund said in a thank-you letter she wrote to her fellow riders shortly after the 2009 event. “Amazing. Fun. Wonderful. Rewarding. Life-changing. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.”

Lund and her teammates belong to a group of riders known as Team Brain, co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s Brain Institute and Clinical Neurosciences Center.

Last year, Team Brain won a special “Living With Hope” award from the National MS Society for having the most team members who actually have MS. A total of five of the team’s 50-plus riders, including Lund, have been diagnosed with MS, a neurological disorder afflicting approximately 400,000 people in the United States, including an estimated 30,000 Utahns.

For Lund, the first sign of trouble occurred in late 2007 when she noticed numbness on one side of her face.

“I couldn’t feel it at the time,” she said.

Fearing she might have a brain tumor, Lund first saw a medical specialist in Moab, who referred her to a neurologist in Grand Junction.

“When a neurologist calls you at 7:30 on a Saturday night,” you know it can’t be good news, Lund said.

Lund, who didn’t have medical insurance, was then referred to specialists at the University of Utah, where she continues to receive injections and other treatments.

“The thing about MS is that it’s completely unpredictable, and unique to every person that has it,” Lund said.

She explained that MS is an autoimmune disease that presents itself neurologically, as white blood cells attack healthy tissue, particularly the myelin coating that protects the nerve fibers of the central nervous system.

Myelin protects the nerves much like the insulating material that surrounds an electrical wire, Lund said, noting that as the myelin is destroyed, it is replaced by scars of hardened “sclerotic” tissue, which interferes with the transmission of nerve signals.

The damage typically appears in various places throughout the central nervous system, giving the disease its name of multiple sclerosis, or scarring in multiple locations, Lund said.

“There is no known cause and no cure,” she said. And that is where the fund-raising efforts come in, Lund said.

The demographics of the disease are somewhat baffling. Utah, with its predominantly high population of people of northern European descent, has one of the highest incidence rates of MS in the country, with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 300. Nationwide, women with MS outnumber men by a 3 to 1 ratio. Also, for some reason, people who live in certain climates, particularly those of the higher northern latitudes, are at greater risk for developing MS, research shows.

Lund says that researchers are working hard to find answers regarding the possible causes of MS, in hopes of finding an eventual cure.

“There is a lot of groundbreaking research happening,” Lund said. “Money really does make a difference.”

Currently, there are six different FDA-approved drugs used to treat MS. Although all are administered by injection, a new oral therapy awaiting FDA approval is one of several promising new treatments being developed, Lund said.

Lund, who grew up along the Wasatch Front in Northern Utah, has lived in Moab off and on for the past 16 years. She first worked in Moab in the mid-1990s as a river guide, and has since worked in several other jobs over the years, including as a worker at local smoothie shop, a restaurant waitress, a field specialist for a forest preservation organization, and as a biologist checking fish populations for the state Division of Wildlife. Although Lund spent several summers in Alaska, she kept finding reasons to come back to Moab, where she’s lived year-round since 2007.

Since 2009, Lund has been working as a biological science technician for the National Park Service, a job that takes her all over the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners area, checking flora, fauna, and soils in some 16 national parks and monuments.

“It’s great,” said Lund of her new job. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to hike and explore our national parks.”

Like many other people who have been diagnosed with MS, Lund strives to live as normal a life as possible, despite the disease’s debilitating effects.

Lund says she has the most common type of MS, shared by approximately 85 to 90 percent of MS sufferers. Known as “relapsing-remitting” MS, it is characterized by unpredictable relapses followed by long remission-like periods that are relative quiet, with no new signs of activity.

In addition to the daily and weekly drug injections she is receiving as part of a clinical trial, Lund manages her symptoms by exercising, healthy living, and a gluten-free diet that also avoids saturated fats.

“Stress is also a factor in MS, so I try to live as stress free as possible,” she said.

Lund said she has dreams of seeing an MS support group form in Grand County, and hopes that Moab will host its own Bike MS event someday.

To help raise money last year, Lund sold nearly two dozen color sketches she’d created of whimsical muffins, each drawn on a brown paper bag and shown at an art show at Moab’s Love Muffin Café.

“I want to do anything I can do to help people whose MS is worse than mine,” said Lund, who plans to continue to raise both public awareness about MS, and the funds to fight it.

“I ride because I can. It’s my way of giving back and giving thanks,” Lund said. “I live every day with symptoms that are relatively mild – knock on wood! – but deal with the uncertainty of the future. Some other people living with MS can’t ride and I somehow want to help them out.”

The event is also fun, she said.

“It’s unbelievably fun to be out there riding bikes with friends,” Lund said. “It feels good knowing this money goes toward programs to help people living with MS, and to fund groundbreaking research to find a cure.”

Since last year’s Bike MS event in Logan, Lund has recruited several close friends to become part of Team Brain. Joining Lund for this year’s ride will be fellow Moabites Delite Primus, Kathleen Pelto, and Kristen Hayes, plus several other friends from other areas, including Salt Lake City, Idaho, and Washington state.

Each participant has raised at least $250 to become part of the team, said Lund, who has also committed herself to ride the maximum possible total of 175 miles during this weekend’s event – 100 miles the first day and 75 the second.

Team Brain has raised nearly $28,000 to date.

To make a donation to the team, or for more information about the upcoming bike ride event, visit www.tinyurl.com/teambrain2010. For information about national and local efforts to fight MS, visit www.nationalmssociety.org/chapters/UTU/index.aspx.

ByBy Jeff Richards

contributing writer