- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Nicole Brand, who is 10, seems a little young to be sweating over her fitness regimen.The Bethesda, Md., girl isnt carrying an ounce of excess weight, and she giddily admits to liking chocolate and the other sweets that make being a child worthwhile.
But for the past few months, she has been lifting weights, running and cycling to prepare for next months Snow Valley MS 150 Bike Tour 2001, a 150-mile journey from Manassas, Va., to Fredericksburg, Va.
The cause is dear to her young heart. Her grandmother and uncle both suffer from multiple sclerosis, and she wants to raise as much money as possible to help fund the fight against it.
"The best part is raising the money," says a pragmatic Nicole, who understands the National Multiple Sclerosis Society does more than explore potential cures for the disease. It also provides care for MS patients, from treatments to allowing them to leave their care centers and get a taste of independence again.
"Its really important," she says of the fund-raising efforts. "Its not just some disease."
On race day, shell wear a personalized yellow shirt created by her grandfather for the race. Its awash with swirling colors in fabric paint, with her name emblazoned on it. At its center, the letters "MS" are in a circle with a slash through it.
More than 70,000 cyclists will ride in MS Bike Tours in 47 states this year. The societys bike tours have netted more than $250 million to fuel programs and research toward fighting and treating MS. Locally, about 1,500 will ride in the Virginia tour.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms of the illness, which is incurable, can include numbness in the extremities, paralysis and loss of vision.
Nicole, a brown-haired girl with a warm countenance, has a training partner to make sure she completes the course.
Marci Brand, Nicoles mother, will ride alongside her daughter next month.
"Im the mother and the enforcer," Mrs. Brand says. But to hear her tell it, the latter isnt necessary. "She doesnt love running but she realized if she didnt train, it wouldnt happen."
Nicole doesnt use any fancy Power Bars or other trendy fuel supplies. Just a childs enthusiasm and a dedication to the cause.

The duo, which has endured tired muscles, vigorous outreach efforts and a flat tire along the way, have been preparing for the event since January.
"Its a big undertaking for both of us," Mrs. Brand says. That was underscored when they went on 20-mile ride early in their training.
"That was really hard for me," Nicole says, her eyes wide.
"It was torture," Mrs. Brand adds. Subsequent training has made that journey much easier.
"It was my first ride going fast," says Nicole, looking back. "Now, Im able to do the same ride ."
Last week, they nearly doubled that distance, traveling along bucolic paths around Mount Vernon.
What a difference some training makes.
"Now, we know we can do it," Mrs. Brand says. "We may finish last," she laughs, but the two intend to complete the course.
Nicole is proud she can ride such lengths while many of her schoolmates might huff and puff along a similar path. But she also feels the gentle pressure of the hundreds of people who wrote checks on her behalf, many of whom included their own experiences dealing with sick loved ones.
"So many people gave money," she says. "I want to do it even more now."
So far, Nicole has raised about $6,000, though she and her mother hope that figure rises to $20,000 by the end of May.
At first, their modest predictions hovered around $2,000, but Nicoles aggressive letter-writing campaign to friends, neighbors and local businesses took off with such alacrity that they quickly upped their estimates.
Checks have flowed in from friends, and sometimes strangers.
"Everybody knows somebody with MS," Mrs. Brand says.
Tour participants arent forced to finish the two-day course on May 19 and 20. They can opt to bike only part of the full path.
But the Bethesda mother and daughter have no plan but to finish all 150 miles.
Nicole tries to work out every other day in preparation, but with a typically busy childs schedule, she squeezes in workouts whenever she can. She also uses three pairs of colored weights as part of her routine, following fitness guidelines passed along from a family friend.
In between the bike sessions and iron pumping, Nicole trudges out to complete 20-minute runs.
Mrs. Brand says her children Nicole, 11-year-old Danielle and 6-year-old Ryan have learned the devastating effects of MS while watching two family members suffer with it.
"Theres still a lot we dont know about MS," Mrs. Brand says.
For example, a person has a greater chance of developing MS if someone in his family has the disease, but its not known just what the chances are, according to Daniela Ricci, a spokeswoman with the local MS chapter.
Mrs. Brands mother was diagnosed with the illness when Mrs. Brand was 11 years old. "My mom led a healthy life" otherwise, she says. Only in her later years did her health decline dramatically. "But its sad when youre in a nursing home at 66."
Nicole, who loves watching football and hockey, says she likely will return to her Bethesda streets to keep on riding once the tour wraps. Thats in between finishing all those handwritten thank-you notes for the people who made her fund-raiser a success.
For Mrs. Brand, the bike tour is the chance to take a different perspective on the devastating disease that has struck her family twice.
"Its nice for us to do something positive," she says. "My brother thinks its really wonderful. Its something we can all talk about.
"As a family, it weighs so heavily on us," she says. "Itll be a good memory with all the bad parts."
For the National Multiple Sclerosis Society chapter nearest you, call 800/FIGHT-MS, or visit www.MSandYou.org.

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