The Michigan Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society awarded Michelle Gunkelman, the director of Residential Life, with the Rookie Rider award. She received the award for her attitude, fundraising and energy while participating in the Great Lakes Bavarian Breakaway ride.
Gunkelman didn’t know she had received the award until the MS society called her while she traveled.
“I didn’t have any clue about it,” Gunkelman said. “They sent me an email, and I didn’t even read it. Then, I got a phone call from them while I was traveling.”
Gunkelman’s inspiration to ride in the MS fundraising event came from her mother, who was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago. Gunkelman raised $2,790 from the event, which donates profits toward MS research.
“She knew I was doing it because of her,” Gunkelman said. “I asked her when I was writing my letters to get sponsors, ‘Is it OK if I talk about your story a little bit?’”
Gunkelman had never done a 50-mile bike ride before, but she set a goal to ride 50 miles each of the two days for the fundraiser. Although she didn’t have a set training plan, she still trained every day for five months.
“I tried to go out, and when I got home from work, I’d get on my bike and ride at least 10 miles a night,” Gunkelman said. “On the weekends, I would do longer rides. I would try to increase my distance every weekend, and the longest ride I think I did was 42 or 43 miles.”
On the first day of the event, Gunkelman finished the 50 miles in five hours. Her parents waited for her at the finish line.
“When I came in on the first day from riding 50 miles, my mom and dad were at the finish line, and I teared up,” Gunkelman said. “I had a lot of emotions because I had just accomplished something that I had worked really hard for. Everything was coming together.”
The second day of the ride, the weather turned to steady rain. Despite this, Gunkelman chose to keep her plan to ride. She looked to her mom for the strength to continue.
“My mom can’t wake up and say, ‘I don’t have MS today.’ So, I needed to go out and try,” said Gunkelman. “That was one of the things that pushed me on Sunday morning.”
Gunkelman rode 12 miles in the rain before pulling off at a rest stop. A member of her team rode with her.
Gunkelman felt supported and said his talking helped make the ride go by faster.
“He would ride way faster than I did, but he was so patient with me and he just kept talking which helped,” Gunkelman said. “I didn’t feel pressured by him, but I felt very supported.”
Gunkelman already signed up for the event next year and looks forward to riding again and raising more money for this great cause.
Reporting from Melissa Vennix, Vanguard Reporter