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Hope fills the air at Walk MS event

Thousands show up to UC Irvine to participate in annual event to raise funds for research into finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.

April 06, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Thousands participate in Walk MS, hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, held at UC Irvine on Saturday.
Thousands participate in Walk MS, hosted by the National… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Bill Bisch was in the midst of throwing a football during a family Thanksgiving game when his legs gave out and he fell face down.

The 57-year-old San Juan Capistrano resident was quickly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

"MS changed my life dramatically," he said. "Who plans on retiring at 39?"

For the second year in a row, Bisch was the top fundraiser at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Walk MS event, hosted Saturday at UC Irvine. Along with his wife and sons, and members of Team Momentum, he contributed more than $30,000 to the cause.

Bisch described encounters with people who would mistake MS for muscular dystrophy, bolstering his commitment to a better understanding of the disease, which prevents the communication between nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord by compromising the myelin sheaths around them.

"I can't walk farther than 10 feet unassisted today, so my Segway is a great device," said Bisch, a five-time participant of Challenge Walk MS — a three-day, 50-mile trip from Carlsbad to Embarcadero Park, San Diego.

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Despite living with MS for two decades, Bisch was one of 3,128 walkers who contributed a total of $435,000 by Saturday.

While the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has hosted walks for 26 years, the walk in Irvine debuted in 2005. Walkers — who showed up in every color imaginable, donning octopus-shaped headgear, feathers and boas, and accompanied by pooches with wrist bands and leis — raise funds throughout the year.

"You can't really help but be inspired when you meet these people who are diagnosed with this disease that they have to live with for the rest of their lives," said Richard Israel, president of the Pacific South Coast Chapter. "They have decided to come out and be part of the solution. These are very special people who don't stay at home feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they are out working to find a cure and raise funds."

Last year, the entire chapter attracted a turnout of about 12,000 people. The walks are currently on track to match 2012's earnings of $1.6 million, Israel said.

Saturday's festive crowd featured parents pushing tutu-clad toddlers in strollers, while others completed the two-mile circuit in electric wheelchairs.

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