Hitting the road to fight MS

Jessica Coe, her husband Matthew, left, and father, Douglas Ranson, rode in the recent Bike MS: City to Shore Ride on Sept. 28 and 29, 2013. Jessica was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis about a decade ago.

Ewing resident bikes from Cherry Hill to Ocean City and back to support multiple sclerosis research

By Lacey Ross

It began with blurred vision.

A junior in college at the time, Ewing resident Jessica Coe remembers the first signs that something wasn’t right.

“I was up at school at Scranton,” she said. “I saw an eye doctor. Based on my symptoms she said, ‘I really think you need to see a neurologist.’”

Soon Coe was experiencing numbness in her hands and feet, and her balance began to feel off. After four months of doctor appointments and tests, Coe, an athlete on her college swim team, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

“I’ll always remember the date,” she said. “It was Jan. 16, 2004. I was shocked just because I was young and fit and didn’t think I would have to deal with anything of that magnitude as a junior in college. You’re thinking of your next test and when you’re going to go out drinking next with your friends, not MS.”

Nearly 10 years later, Coe, who is now 30 years old, has done so much more than learn to live with her symptoms.

With the help of family and friends, she has raised more than $40,000 over the past 10 years through her annual participation in the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride, a two-day, 150-mile event to to support MS research.

Team Jessters, Coe’s fundraising team, pedaled their way from Cherry Hill to Ocean City and then back again on Sept. 28 and 29.

It was the team’s eighth year riding in the race. There were only two years since Coe’s diagnosis that she was unable to participate because of flare ups of her symptoms.

Both years, her team pushed on with her on the sidelines, showing her gratitude and support.

“I’ve been fortunate that eight out of the 10 rides I’ve participated in I’ve been able to do it,” she said.

The number of Jessters fluctuates based on who is available to ride each year. Some years there have been as many as 25 riders on Team Jessters, among the approximate 7,000 other racers that ride every year. This year, the race raised nearly $5.5 million and counting, as donations continue to climb, even after the race has finished.

“It’s so great to be lined up with thousands of riders,” she said, speaking about her first moments at the starting line, before she begins pedaling. “Everybody there is somehow personally affected by MS, whether they have MS or someone they know has MS.”

With so many years under her belt, the ride has become a lot less daunting for Coe, but the physical and emotional challenge is still there every time. While putting on her helmet and preparing to start, she takes a moment to look around and take in the sea of racers around her.

“There are some riders who you can tell are very physically fit and there are other riders who you don’t know how they’re going to make the 80 miles that day,” she said. “Not everybody is a marathon runner. You can’t help but give credit to everybody that tries.”

Often, Coe finds herself teary-eyed while riding, overwhelmed by the tremendous show of supporters and moved by the dedication of all the participants, both those who have MS and those who do not. When she is not, she said she is most likely laughing and cracking jokes with her teammates.

“As a family, we always have a lot of fun together and we’re always joking around and laughing, so we just have a great time,” she said, adding that in the past the team members have even worn jester hats made by her mother-in-law over their helmets when they cross the finish line.

Also riding along side of her is her father, Douglas Ranson, and her husband, Matthew Coe, both Ewing residents. Her mother, Alice Ranson, a school teacher at Children’s Day School in Ewing, is always there to cheer them on. Every summer, Coe and her husband train by taking long bike rides together to prepare.

“It’s great. [My dad] is obviously a lot older than I am but he still kicks my butt every year,” she laughs. “It’s really great to know that he’s always there and my husband’s always there.”

Coe, who graduated from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville and the University of Scranton, in Scranton, Pa., works full-time as an outpatient physical therapist. Doing orthopedic and sports therapy for over seven years now, she has been able to gather inspiration for her own health through working with her clients.

“My job is physically demanding, and I’m on my feet running around with patients all day long,” she said. “I do need to stay physically active to do my job.”

Coe continues to push her body as much as she can by participating in 5K races three to four times per year. She even has recently committed to a couple of of upcoming 10-mile races in the Trenton area. For Coe, all of them are simply a part of a larger race against time, a challenge to hold onto her physical abilities for as long as she can.

“I’m just motivated to try and stay active,” she said. “The likelihood of me being able to do this forever is not there. If I do have more limitations later on because of MS, I’d rather be able to look back and say, ‘I did do these things.’”

Coe doesn’t spend much time feeling sorry for herself. In fact, she feels lucky that although she does experience symptoms from time to time, she is able to continue working and living her life without too many limitations.

“I have been fortunate that I’ve been able to relatively monitor and control my symptoms and do everything I want to do,” she said. “I just have to kind of be smart about what I do. I can’t get overheated. If it’s a hot day I take extra time. If I start getting blurry vision, I take my time.”

Coe has come a long way since her diagnosis. She goes for treatment once a month and still struggles with eye pain and blurred vision from time to time. This January, she hopes to plan a special three-to-four-day trip somewhere for her and her mother to celebrate how far she has come since her diagnosis.

For now, Coe has no plans of stopping. She will keep riding and raising funds for the MS Society for as long as she can. Her message to others who suffer from MS is simple: keep on pushing.

“Take care of your body and make sure that you are your own best advocate,” she said. “Make sure you make your own health a priority and speak up for the needs you have.”

For more information about Bike MS or to donate, visit MScycling.org.