Kathleen Kirwan’s multiple sclerosis progressed to the point she was only able to get out of bed “a couple of hours every three days,” according to her friend, William Visnich, before she died of massive organ failure in April. Kirwan, who lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the time of her passing but graduated from Peters Township High School, was a longtime friend of Visnich.
“I saw Katie suffer for 30 years,” said Visnich, of Pittsburgh. “We were very close.” He moved to New York with Kirwan in 1975 and lived there for 20 years. During that time, he watched the progression of her disease. He watched her walk, rely on crutches, use a wheelchair and, eventually, be confined to her bed.
Multiple sclerosis does damage to the protective covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This damage can result in a range of symptoms, including loss of movement and speech and other physical and mental issues.
A team of three bicycle riders from ANSYS Inc. at Southpointe, where Visnich is employed, is part of the “Escape to the Lake” charity ride this weekend to support MS research, riding in the name of friends and loved ones to honor their struggle.
Those riding this weekend include Chris Butor of Canonsburg, Victor Byani of Canonsburg and Wendy McDonald of Bethel Park. They are members of a larger group at ANSYS Inc. who ride in charity events throughout the area.
Butor, who has been involved in charity cycling events with ANSYS for a year, will be riding in honor of Kirwan. Her story and struggle moved him after conversations with Butor’s co-worker, Visnich.
“A brief conversation with Bill showed me just how important a friend Katie was to him and how over the last year or so her struggle with multiple sclerosis became that much harder,” Butor said. “When events like this strike close to your personal sphere, it drives you even more to do what you can to fight against life thieves like MS.”
Through the National MS Society Western Pennsylvania Chapter, those in the area wishing to raise money to support MS research can participate in Bike MS. According to chapter President Anne Mageras, “more than 79 cents out of every dollar (raised) goes directly to improve the lives of people living with MS through programs, services and research.”
Today and Sunday, more than 1,000 cyclists will be taking part in the “Escape to the Lake” ride. It is the longest-running charity bike ride in the area, with this being the 29th year.
Riders embark from the Glick Fire Equipment Co. in Zelienople at 7 a.m. today. The first leg of the ride will end at Meadville, where riders will meet at Allegheny College that afternoon. The second leg will be from Meadville to Conneaut, Ohio. The total distance cycled will be about 150 miles.
Preparing for one of these rides is quite an undertaking. Riders spend hours training. Butor said he starts building up his mileage in the winter, cycling 100 miles a week. Spending more than 10 hours over two days on the bike can be excruciating without the proper practice.
“When the miles gets tough and your legs start talking back at you,” Butor said, “you remind yourself that you are riding for those who can’t.”