Walk MS aims to help fund research of disease

May 6, 2019

HUNTINGTON - Amanda Pritt is working and walking her way around West Virginia - all for a good cause.

Pritt is the manager of Walk MS, which has in the past couple of weeks produced fundraising walks in Morgantown, Charleston and Huntington with Beckley’s taking place Mother’s Day weekend (May 11).

On an overcast gray Sunday here in Huntington, Pritt was joined by about 22 teams from around the Tri-State and nearly 400 walkers for the annual Walk MS event at Ritter Park, a 1- and 3-mile walk to help raise funds toward the goal of ending multiple sclerosis. The event was open to all ages and fully accessible to participants using scooters, wheelchairs, walkers or a cane.

Pritt said registration and fundraising is up this year. She said while the National MS Society has been doing a lot of media promotions, she feels like more people are also being affected by multiple sclerosis, as was pointed out in a February 2019 study funded by the society that confirmed nearly 1 million people are living with multiple sclerosis in the United States - more than twice the original estimate from a previous study.

In addition to the main paper outlining these results, two companion papers providing background information on prevalence in the U.S. and reviewing the study methods were also published in the Feb. 15, 2019, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“That is twice what we thought before, so that means we have twice the work to do and we need to work twice as hard to try and find a cure for MS, a neurological disease that has no known cause and no known cure,” Pritt said.

This year the walk had an ’80s theme, since the MS Walks events began in 1988. Before the walk, Pritt was DJing out a stream of ’80s tunes from Prince to Blondie to get teams pumped.

Enthusiasm was not a problem for Team TJ, the orange-tie-dye-shirt wearing crew assembled by T.J. and Bekki Belville, of Proctorville, Ohio.

The spring after T.J. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on Oct. 27, 2015, the Belvilles put together a team of five for the walk. In 2017, they started selling T-shirts and wound up with 80 people walking with them. Last year, they went over the 100 mark and this year they were hoping to break the 200 mark of participants coming out to help support T.J., as well as Team TJ members and friends Donna Ferguson and Joe Taylor, who also attend First Baptist Church Proctorville with the Belville family.

Wearing an orange football jersey, T.J. Belville said he was grateful for so many friends, family members and even some strangers who have jumped in to help him and others in their fight to stave off the effects of the disease. He said through treatment and therapy, he feels like he is making progress.

“The first year I did this I didn’t walk at all and the second year I maybe walked 100 yards,” Belville said. “Last year Joe and I did the whole thing.”

Looking out over the sea of people gathering under E-Z Ups before the walk, Pritt said the group’s determination outshines any bad weather on this difficult journey that is being taken together.

“I had no doubt people were going to come. It is a great event and it really is a celebration because we have had a lot of breakthroughs with MS, new treatments and therapies and that is because of events like this,” Pritt said. “We just crossed the $1 billion fundraising mark last year with Walk MS, and it is because these teams had yard sales and bake sales and came together. We say we are stronger together and that is what we are.”

For more information, visit nationalmssociety.org