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Creating a world free of MS

Clockwise from bottom left: Joseph Walker, Dominic LaSpina, Vincenzo LaSpina, William Gao, Frank Cahill, Benjamin Legagneur, Demarius Gant, Connor Horn.

It’s that time of year for Father Judge teacher Frank Cahill and dozens of Crusaders.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society will be holding its 44th annual Bike MS: City to Shore Ride, a fundraising event that starts in Cherry Hill and finishes in Ocean City, on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Cahill, a longtime English teacher at Judge, has been involved with the ride for 19 years. He rode the course for 12 years in support of a cousin, Bernadette Bellerjeau, who has multiple sclerosis.

MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. There is no known cause or cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and range from numbness and tingling to mobility challenges, blindness and paralysis. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people are diagnosed from ages 20 to 50, and MS affects women three times more than men.

Cahill also participates in honor of his daughter, Sherry McGrath, who was born with Rett syndrome – a rare genetic mutation affecting brain development in girls – and was later diagnosed with MS.

Judge students have been volunteering for more than a decade.

“I can’t believe they do it for me every year. It’s spectacular,” Cahill said.

On Saturday, Cahill and the student volunteers will meet in the parking lot at 5 a.m. and take a bus to a Bike MS rest stop in Egg Harbor City.

“It seemed like a really good cause, and I immediately signed the form,” senior Joseph Walker said as to why he is volunteering. “I love helping.”

Sophomore Benjamin Legagneur recalls taking part last year, with his brother Isaiah (class of ‘23), and handing out snacks to riders.

Sophomore William Gao also participated last year, cutting oranges for the riders and talking to them before they continued on their way to the Ocean City Sports & Civic Center, at 6th Street and the Boardwalk.

Senior Vincenzo LaSpina said learning about MS “tugged at my heartstrings” and led him to volunteer. Dominic LaSpina, his twin, is also looking forward to contributing to the cause.

“It’s a sad thing for anyone to go through,” he said. “I want to help out the best I can.”

Some 4,000 cyclists – including Judge guidance director Michele Purcell and financial aid/tuition officer Kathie Gibson – are expected to participate. In all, more than $4.3 million is expected to be raised for local programs, services and research to fuel breakthroughs for Americans living with MS. Those numbers are down from pre-pandemic levels, but still significant.

At Judge, the effort is announced daily in the morning and during lunch periods. Students who pay $5 will have their names printed on paper dots that hang in Cahill’s classroom. Fundraising Friday dress-down days are another way to raise money, at $2 per student.

The Judge students will be among nearly 1,000 volunteers at six rest stops along the route.

“We’re doing this to give back to the community,” said sophomore Connor Horn.

In past years, Judge students have had a chance to interact with Cahill’s daughter and wife – also named Sherry – at the rest stop.

Cahill also volunteers on the second day of the event, and he’ll pay for the gasoline and tolls for any student who joins him.

Later, Cahill will have his seniors in English class write a research paper on MS.

On Saturday, in addition to handing out snacks, protein bars, drinks, ice and oranges, students will help set up bike racks and the course, giving riders the option to stop or continue on their way. A DJ will play music.

“It’s like a big party atmosphere,” Cahill said.

The students can join the party but also have a job to do.

“They work their butts off,” Cahill said. “That’s a Judge kid. Judge kids do anything to help people.” ••

To contribute to the cause, go to Frank Cahill’s Facebook page and click the link to his donation page.

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