When LeRoy Bendickson first rode in the Minnesota Multiple Sclerosis Society’s bike ride fund-raiser 21 years ago, he did it for the physical challenge of making the two-day, 150-mile trek across the state. He wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming emotion he’d feel riding into the finish as bystanders in wheelchairs and on crutches cheered him on, waving in appreciation of his efforts.
These individuals don’t have the opportunity to do what I just did, he thought. Coming face to face with MS opened up a whole new world to Bendickson, a practitioner with Edina Realty in Edina, Minn. The two-day endurance-testing journey became a mission. In subsequent rides, he has been there not to challenge himself, he says, but to help others.
In 21 years, Bendickson has completed 24 150-mile rides. His dedication to the MS150 event has proved contagious; today, he has a 250-member Real Estate Riders team, and collective fund-raising has reached nearly $1 million. “I encourage all the riders to set their goal higher each year,” he says. “The first year I did it, I got on the phone and called everybody I knew, and I raised more than $1,000. But last year, I raised about $11,000 myself.”
Pete Ruliffson first met Bendickson during the June 2000 MS150. How could he not notice the man dressed in a hula skirt and coconut brassiere? Each year Bendickson chooses a theme and dresses up to welcome team members after each day of riding. He’ll bypass as many rest stops as he can in order to make it to the tent first and change into his costume in time to greet his team. “Eleven years later, that image, for me, still typifies LeRoy’s dedication and effort to the cause of defeating multiple sclerosis,” says Ruliffson.
After a day of riding, you’d think team members would head to their hotel rooms to rest. But that’s not the case for Bendickson’s group. The Real Estate Riders’ tent is filled with people talking and having a good time. “It’s like a reunion. I think the experience they have in that tent is important because that’s what is going to bring them back next year,” Bendickson says.
The Real Estate Riders are consistently in the top three MS150 teams for fund-raising in the state, according to Kris van Osnabrugge, director of team engagement for the Minnesota MS Society. Other top teams are led by huge companies, not a single person like Bendickson. “LeRoy is pretty fantastic. Not many people have the commitment he has,” she says. “A team his size can be a full-time job, and he’s willing to plug away and make sure it happens.”
The effort is healing to John Radabaugh, who was diagnosed with MS in 2000. “I didn’t know anything about MS until I was diagnosed. When I was doing research, I found out there was an MS150, and I got in touch with LeRoy,” says Radabaugh, a former Realtor® who was affiliated with Edina Realty from 1997 to 2007. Radabaugh completed two races and made it through the 75-mile first day during the 2011 ride but couldn’t complete day two. “MS just took over,” he says.
Radabaugh has primary progressive MS, which essentially means the disease is advancing on a downward curve. However, he recently started participating in a drug trial.
“Three weeks into the study, I realized I felt better. Seven weeks into it, I could walk again without a brace or crutches. I’ve got more of my balance and it’s because people are doing this fund-raising and putting money into it.”
As long as he can pedal, Bendickson will be happy to cycle for outcomes like that. “With 21 years in a row of doing this ride, I can’t quit. When you’re on a roll, you keep on going. A body in motion stays in motion. Well, I’m in motion and I just can’t quit,” he said. “Raising funds for MS will be a lifetime journey for me.”