Connecticut and Maine have grown a little closer, thanks to a committed group of families working to support a cure for multiple sclerosis. The Soleburners is a fundraising team that began in Maine but now walks in Connecticut for MS each and every year.
Nearly half a million Americans live with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system.
Scott and Pam Chamberlin of Windham began walking in Maine at various MS events in 1991, following Pam’s diagnosis. Their son Kevin was a supporter right from the beginning.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Kevin’s own family, who live in Connecticut, continue the Soleburner efforts. Scott and Pam’s grandchildren, young Gavin and Grace, are now walking.
At 18 months old, Gavin is too young to appreciate the purpose of the walk, but he’s a part of things nonetheless. When he’s not walking, sporting his Team Soleburner T-shirt, he’s getting pushed along in his stroller.
An interesting coincidence occurred at this year’s walk.
“There were 14 of us in all,” recalls Scott Chamberlin of Windham. “Anyone is welcome to join. We had some good friends of ours appear and surprise Pam this year.”
Years ago, Liz Walsh and her daughters, Jenine and Danielle, were next-door neighbors to the Chamberlins in Windham.
Jenine and Danielle now live in the same town here Kevin and his family now reside. Liz Walsh lives in New York these days, but that didn’t stop her from driving more than two hours to participate.
“They didn’t even know they lived in the same town until the walk this year,” Scott said. “Pam was really touched by their appearance.”
People living with MS in Maine are supported not only by their local state chapter, but the Greater New England Chapter, which offers vital programs and services. Like the Chamberlins, many families make MS events an annual reunion of sorts, traveling to different cities and states to be together on the day of the walk.
A local MS walk in Maine took place in Scarborough on April 24. Altogether, there are some 40 walks in the New England Chapter, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Connecticut has its own chapter.
Of course, the primary purpose of the MS walks is to raise funds for a cure, but as Steve Sookikian, associate vice president of communications for the Central New England Chapter, points out, sometimes the funds provide needed support, such as a wheelchair ramp to provide freedom in and out of someone’s home.
Other times, the proceeds support a more complex arrangemen, involving private and public resources that allow a person to remain living at home as independently as possible. Another goal could be to identify appropriate long-term care facilities and educate the skilled health care staff to familiarize them with standards of care for people living with MS.
Pam Chamberlin’s symptoms are such that she’s able to enjoy these reunions; she can drive and participate in the walks. However, she says she suffers from leg and back spasms, severe fatigue and significant vertigo at times.
Coming Maine events to support a cure for MS include the sixth annual “plane pull” at the Portland International Jetport on June 12. Teams of 25 will try to pull a FedEx 757 weighing more than 72 tons.
July 31 and Aug. 1 will see Bike to the Breakwater, which begins at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. Participants will have a choice of several fully supported routes through the Maine countryside to our distinctive rocky coast. The event wraps up with a barbecue and an old-fashioned Maine lobster bake.
There are plenty of ways to get out and have fun while working for a cure for MS. Karen Butler, vice president of communications with the National MS Society Connecticut Chapter, said, “Multiple sclerosis not only has life-changing effects on the person diagnosed, but in many ways, MS also has an effect on family, friends and colleagues.
“Funds raised at walk events held across the country, such as in Maine and Connecticut, ensure ongoing scientific research to find better treatments and a cure for MS. We are delighted to see a family like the Chamberlins step out in support of a loved one battling MS.”
Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: