RIDERS WHO INSPIRE
Has Multiple Sclerosis
Grace Ragland reached out to us a few months ago to tell us her story. Many riders do that via our “Trailgrams” section, usually to tell us when we make a mistake, or in our “Trail Mix” section, where riders love to show us photos of themselves riding their home trails. Grace’s call was different, though. We were so impressed with this woman after a single phone call that we wanted to showcase her amazing story.
Grace has multiple sclerosis, and that hasn’t slowed her down one bit. We’ve heard many times about how difficult intense exercise can be with this lifelong disease, which is why we nearly dropped the phone from our hands when we learned she has competed in some of the most grueling races in our sport. She’s an inspirational woman who shares her love of riding with others every time she gets on the bike and also works as an ambassador for Giant and Liv bikes, which is why we’re dedicating this month’s “Riders Who Inspire” to her.
Name: Grace Ragland
Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee Number of years riding: Most of my life; racing since 2007
Favorite go-to bike: LIV Lust Advanced Pro
Favorite trail, ride or race: My favorite trail is anywhere on this planet. My favorite race is the Breck Epic Six-Day Stage Race in Breckenridge, Colorado.
MBA: How did you get into riding?
Grace: Actually, it all began when I learned to ride a bike at about age 4! As a kid, and even through college, biking was my form of transportation. Once I graduated I went to Yosemite on a backpacking trip where I rode my first mountain bike. About five years later I purchased my first of many mountain bikes. At that time I knew of no girls who rode the trails in my town, so I would ride with the guys. Those guys were extremely patient and encouraging. Most all of us still frequent the trails on Monte Sano in Huntsville, Alabama.
MBA: Can you explain a little about MS and how it affects a person?
Grace: Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling, disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. The symptoms of MS run the gamut from extreme fatigue, blurred or double vision, and vertigo to numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and, in severe cases, paralysis.
MBA: More specifically, how does MS affect your riding?
Grace: My symptoms vary from day to day. One of my main symptoms is a weak right side (leg and arm), another is my eyesight. Heat is my nemesis and is tough on most individuals living with MS. While riding in the summer heat, my speed drops, and if you are a mountain biker, you know the importance of momentum. I seem to have more trouble with my balance in the summer as well. Also, during the hotter season, I have blurry vision most days, and the weakness on my right side is more prevalent.
MBA: When were you diagnosed with MS, and was it before or after you started riding mountain bikes?
Grace: My first symptom of MS was when I was 10 years old, but I was not diagnosed until 1980 at age 18. I did not have a mountain bike until a few years after college. Nowadays, I probably would have been diagnosed at my first symptom. The understanding of MS has changed tremendously with the development of technology. When I was 10, there were no MRIs for testing and diagnosing or disease-modifying therapies.
MBA: What rides and races have you worked hardest to train for and compete in?
Grace: A quote from Arthur Ashe— “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation”—resonated with me many years ago. Realistic goals are very important for me. Number one: do the very best you can! Number two: finish with a smile. Number three: finish and still want to continue training and racing. The races I feel I have worked hardest for have been stage races, such as the BC Bike Race, Breck Epic and Transylvania Epic. Last year I was registered to do a bucket-list race (La Ruta Conquistadores), but three weeks before the event I crashed pretty badly and spent a few days in the hospital with a concussion and a few other injuries. My 2015 goal was to be the first female living with MS for as long as I have to complete three stage races. I completed two of the three, and the last would have been La Ruta. Oh well, life got in the way, and I can honestly say I did my very best up until the crash. It just wasn’t meant to happen, and that was okay. I was concerned all along about racing in the Costa Rican heat.
MBA: How has having MS affected your training?
Grace: Training with MS most definitely has its challenges. Most athletes have heard the old cliché “listen to your body.” This is imperative for me. There is such a fine line with fatigue. Since I have lived with MS for most of my life, I know the difference between extreme, debilitating fatigue and being tired from a hard workout. Part of my training routine includes making sure I get proper rest and nutrition and always listen to my body. It can get very frustrating when you suddenly are too fatigued to do a workout and it is the perfect day outside for a ride. I’ve paid the price several times for ignoring my body telling me it was too tired to ride. Being fatigued also messes with my vision and balance. Most always I end up on the ground if I don’t pay attention to what the ol’ bod is telling me.
MBA: What benefits have you noticed from riding since your diagnosis?
Grace: Training, racing and just riding have helped keep me strong, confident and focused on being healthy. I never dwell on the fact that I live with a debilitating disease; however, at times, life gets in the way, which may force me to change my routine of riding and training. When this happens, I seem to notice my MS symptoms more.
MBA: How did you get involved with the Giant/Liv ambassador program?
Grace: Several years ago at an IMBA mountain bike instructor certification clinic I met Jen Audia. At that time Jen was the Liv demo driver for the East Coast. Jen is now the U.S. marketing manager. At that time I had not heard of Liv. One of my best friends, Matthew Blevins, owns a shop in Huntsville, Alabama, Blevins Bicycle Company, and its main brand was Giant. Matthew filled me in on the Liv brand. Originally, the brand was known as Liv/ Giant; now, it is simply known as Liv. I was intrigued by the fact that this brand was actually designed by women for women and with the brand message of getting more women on bikes. It wasn’t until a year later that I heard about the Liv ambassador program, but I had missed the application deadline. This program was a great fit for me since I am an advocate for the women’s cycling community in Huntsville. In 2012 a fellow cycling friend of mine and I started an all-women’s cycling group called Rocket City Cycle Belles. Our mission is to encourage women, whether they are diehard racers or just bought a bike to ride with their family. Through the Liv ambassador program and the Rocket City Cycle Belles in Huntsville, we are creating a community where women feel like they belong and can make lasting friendships and see the potential they have to become better cyclists doing things they never thought possible. Those lessons can translate into other areas of their lives. We know the bike is more than parts; it can be a vehicle of change and absolutely life-giving! During the past two years as a Liv ambassador, I have had the opportunity to meet other women who share the same passion. All of the ambassadors network to help each other build a stronger cycling community for women.
MBA: What advice would you offer to anyone who may be riding with a similar condition?
Grace: Always focus on the “can,” not the “can’t,” by finding a way to keep your eye on the prize.
MBA: Have you altered your bike setup to accommodate your riding with MS?
Grace: The only accommodation I make to all of my bikes is an easier gearing ratio.
MBA: What’s next on your list of cycling goals?
Grace: This year’s goals are pretty stout, starting with the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo four-man team in February in Tucson, Arizona; then the High Cascade 100-mile race in Bend, Oregon; the Leadville Stage Race in Leadville, Colorado; and the NMSS (National Multiple Sclerosis Society) Bike MS 650-mile ride across Alabama.
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