There are many people who are loathe to drag themselves out of bed just early enough to make it to work and school on time, but for the last couple months of his school year, Brookfield resident Jeremy Handley woke up at 5 a.m. on Wednesdays in order to get in a 10-mile bike ride with his mom, Michelle, before the school day started.
“Sometimes it was difficult to get up,” Jeremy, a soon-to-be seventh-grader at St. Barbara Catholic School, said, ‘but my mom and I would push each other. We work pretty good as a team.”
In addition to these early morning training sessions, this team also goes out every Saturday and Sunday, traveling around to all the local bike paths to build up their endurance. In one day they can ride as much as 20 miles.
All of this training has been to prepare for the MS 150 Tour de Farms Bike Tour, taking place this coming weekend to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Over two days, Jeremy and Michelle will bike 70 miles between Maple Park and DeKalb, Ill.
This is by no means their first long-distance biking event?”ever since Jeremy earned his cycling merit badge in his Boy Scout troop two years ago, they’ve been participating in various races throughout the area?”but it is unique in that this is the first time they’ve ridden and raised money for a charity.
“Jeremy had seen me doing a cancer walk for the past five years, and he decided that he wanted to ride for someone who can’t ride anymore,” Michelle Handley said. “He didn’t want to ride just to ride.”
To that end, Jeremy decided to enter the Tour de Farms in memory of Maria Walsch, the wife of his basketball coach and a member of St. Barbara’s congregation who died from complications with multiple sclerosis two years ago.
“It made me realize that if it can happen in my life, it can happen in other people’s lives, too,” he said. “And it made me sad, the thought of so many people dying from this disease.”
He set himself a goal of raising $1,700 and started soliciting donations. He sent out letters to his family and friends, made announcements at church, and organized an “out-of-uniform” day at St. Barbara’s to raise money at school.
As of last week, he had collected $2,100.
“A lot of people came out and helped,” he said, “a lot more than I expected.”
Also surprising to both of the Handleys was the number of people they talked to who had somehow been affected by MS, either personally or through a friend or family member. This weekend, in addition to wearing green bandanas provided by the Walsch family, they will each attach a banner to the back of their bikes listing the names of these others who are fighting against the disease.
The unexpected success they’ve had in raising money for the Tour de Farms makes it likely that this will be added to the Handleys ever-growing list of annual biking events, Jeremy said. He explained that he liked the sport because it was relatively simple to do and didn’t involve much pressure to perform.
“You don’t have to be real competitive to do this,” he said. “You just have to have endurance and be able to pedal.”
For Michelle, their biking adventures have provided an opportunity for some quality family bonding time. While she and Jeremy are the only cyclists in the family, she said that on weekends the whole family will travel to different bike paths. They spend the whole day together, she said, with her husband and younger son going for long walks while she and Jeremy bike. They’ve even been able to share their new-found love of cycling to their extended family, she said, with Jeremy’s 66-year-old grandfather recently taking up riding again.
“This really is a family thing that we do,” she said. “The whole family is involved in our training.”
Michelle also noted that while the actual event will take place this weekend, they will continue to collect money until the beginning of August. Donations can be sent to the Handleys through St. Barbara School at 8900 Windemere Ave. in Brookfield through July 15.