Riding for a Cure
Riding for a Cure
Challenging his own limits, Good Neighbor Award finalist LeRoy Bendickson discovered a lifelong mission to help people with multiple sclerosis challenge theirs.
By Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine
Web Choice Award
You'll have the opportunity to vote for your favorite of this year's 10 Good Neighbor Award finalists to receive the Web Choice Award. Visit Realtor.org/GNA between Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 to cast your vote.
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.”
“A body in motion stays in motion. Well, I’m in motion, and I just can’t quit.”
—LeRoy Bendickson, MS150 Real Estate Riders Team Captain
What started out as a personal challenge has evolved into a second full-time job. Bendickson spends a large portion of the year recruiting team members and sponsors, organizing training rides, providing fund-raising letter templates, and educating others about MS. He arranges all the lodging and transportation for his team and hosts a hospitality tent with massage therapists, food, and entertainment. Last year he secured 10 corporate sponsors that provided a total of $15,400 to the team budget.
His company is one of those official sponsors. “We expect our associates to play an important role with buyer and sellers,” says Edina Realty President Barb Jandric, “but when we see them building better communities and getting involved in causes that are so significant, it really makes us proud.”
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. “LeRoy has always made an effort to encourage and inspire everyone on the team no matter how well he knows them.”
After a day of riding, you’d think team members would be ready to 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 is most important in that tent because that’s what is going to bring them back next year,” Bendickson says.
What exactly is Multiple Sclerosis?
It’s a disease that attacks the fatty substance called myelin that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. When the myelin or nerve fiber is damaged, the nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord can become distorted or interrupted. This can cause numbness in the limbs, paralysis, or loss of vision. The MS Society has been working on finding both the cause (looking at both genetic and environmental triggers) and a cure for the disease. The MS Society also works to lower treatment, care, and associated costs for people living with MS.
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 payoff has been considerable. In 2010, $2.6 million of the funds raised in Minnesota went to programs such as camps, support groups, and other supportive networks. Another $1.8 million went to MS research. “We have seen a lot of progress on that front,” says van Osnabrugge. New drugs are helping people living with various types of MS by treating attacks, improving function and balance, and reducing disease progression. The Food and Drug Administration approved oral medication this year, which is huge, according to van Osnabrugge, because injection treatments can cause irritation or bruising and are painful for some people. Treatments are also being developed and refined to produce more significant results.
John Radabaugh 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 is essentially progressive on a downward curve. 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.”
LeRoy Bendickson is one of 10 finalists for REALTOR® Magazine's Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program that recognizes REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. We’ll bring you the story of one of the finalists each day until October 20. On October 21, online voting will open for a Web Choice Award. The top vote getter will receive a $500 gift card from Lowe's. Votes will be accepted through October 28.
Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, the five winners will be named on November 2. (Web Choice voting does not play a role in the selection of the winners.) The winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and $2,500 Lowe's gift cards and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Anaheim on November 12. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause and $1,000 Lowe's gift cards.
Read Other Published Profiles of the 2011 Finalists:
- Love Your Neighbor: Wayne J. Shaffer, Santa Cruz, Calif.
- Connecting Communities One Trail at a Time: Lynn Reecer, Fort Wayne, Ind.
- Water is Life: Judy Pitt, Boulder, Colo.
- Healing Their Wounds: Vito Anthony Pampalona, Rochester, Mich.
- Becoming Better, Not Bitter: Mark Meinhardt, Cincinnati
- Building a Safe Haven for Teenagers: Christian Klueg, Northville, N.Y.
- Change from the Ground Up: Marta Karpiel, Carmel, Calif.
- Opening Young People's Eyes, Hearts, and Minds: Beth Fernandez, Glen Rock, N.J.