By Sue Botos
Keith and Emily Bryant may not be twins, but they have always been close. So when Keith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in December 2012, his sister, younger by three years, immediately went to work researching the disease to find out what the family could do to help.
Now the dynamic duo will hit the road with their message of encouragement, portraying superheroes The Wonder Twins, in costume, as they pedal their purple and yellow tandem bicycle on Aug. 2 during the Bike MS: Pedal to the Point fundraiser sponsored by the Ohio Buckeye chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In 2013, the Rocky River High School graduates raised $1,000 riding their own bikes and covering the 30-mile Brunswick to Oberlin leg. But this year, they are gearing up for the 75-mile trek from Brunswick High School to Sandusky.
An experienced mountain biker, Keith laughed, during a recent interview, when asked who was going to pilot the tandem. “I’m willing to engage in more of a risk factor than she is. She’s the ‘stoker’; I’ll be up front,” he stated. A service writer for Harley-Davidson in Avon, Keith said he enjoys traveling on “anything with two wheels.”
It was this love of bicycling on rough terrain that brought Keith’s initial symptoms to his attention. “It started off with symptoms of vision,” he said, adding that he thought the blurriness was possibly from taking a tree branch to the face. After making the rounds of doctors and having an MRI, two lesions were discovered in his brain. “That was just enough to be diagnosed,” he said.
Emily, an analyst at BrownFlynn, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm, immediately went to work, researching MS to educate the family, and discover what could be done to help. “She became Keith’s staunchest advocate and encourager in accessing information on lifestyle and diet changes that would help his body fight the disease,” recalled their mother, Debra.
After viewing online video detailing how a woman’s MS symptoms virtually disappeared through a modified diet, Emily began to assist her brother with making more healthful food choices. “Basically, this is a disease you feel you have no control over. Any element of control you feel you can have is very important. At the time (of Keith’s diagnosis) I felt helpless. But that was something that made me feel empowered,” she stated. She added that she served as the guinea pig for new foods.
“I tried them myself before I subjected him to them,” she stated.
(In an ironic twist, Emily said that she had been diagnosed in April with an autoimmune disorder, triggered by ground pepper and coconut.)
Keith described his diet as “hunter gatherer,” with a minimum of gluten, soy and processed foods. His sister explained that it is “not necessarily vegetarian,” as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and meat are essential to building up the myelin sheaths that cover the nerves. MS erodes these coverings, ultimately causing irreversible nerve damage.
Always active, Keith said he got into cycling as a way to strengthen his body to fight MS. “Since I got into training my body, cycling seemed like a good outlet to still get the thrill of two wheels,” he said, adding he used to be more into motorcycles. But it took a bit of convincing to get his sister on a bike about a month before the 2013 Pedal to the Point.
“I got onto a bad accident in middle school and hadn’t ridden regularly since then,” she explained. But after discovering Pedal to the Point during her research, she decided to give riding another try.
After deciding to attempt the trip tandem, the pair was “shell-shocked” by the price of double bikes. They finally found an “incredible deal” online, and when the seller found out about their plans, he agreed to pay for shipping the bike from Arizona.
The superhero twist came from the siblings’ participation in Superheroes for Kids in Ohio, a nonprofit group whose members make costumed visits to children’s hospitals, special needs centers and charitable events. “Working with the children and seeing firsthand what they go through is amazing,” Emily said. Both credited Rocky River Middle School teacher Brian Chulik, who heads up a student superheroes group, with igniting their interest. “He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Keith stated. Even mother Debra has gotten into the act, portraying Fairy Godmother.
While it may not take superpowers to ride a tandem, it does take some coordination and a lot of practice. “The first jaunt down the driveway was pretty terrifying,” Emily admitted. Keith compared it to a rowing team. “The movements have to be in synch.”
One thing the siblings are definitely in synch with is their message, inspired by the children they have visited. Emily explained. “Turning a difficult situation into something positive, I feel, is one of the greatest things you can do as a person. Perpetuate the positivity and the belief that you can.”