Health System exec gets on his bike to raise funds for MS

Garry ScheibCandace diCarlo


Some people take part in sponsored bike rides just for the exercise. Others get a kick out of training with a team. For Garry Scheib, there’s a more personal reason. When he cycles past the finish line at the end of the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s City to Shore Bike Tour this September he’ll be doing it for his mother, who died from the disease in 1996.

This will be the 10th year Scheib has put a team together for Penn’s Health System, where he is the chief operating officer, and he is expecting close to 150 riders to don the Team UPHS jersey. If last year is any indication, his team will end up raising more than $100,000 to raise awareness and fund research into the debilitating disease.

The ride, which runs from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to Ocean City—and back the following day, for those who choose to double their efforts—annually attracts several thousand riders and is the second largest fund-raising event for MS in the country. Last year, it raised $4 million.

The 75-mile trip from city to shore is a mostly flat ride through the blueberry fields and cranberry bogs of the Pine Barrens and on to the Jersey Shore and historic Ocean City. Food and drink stops along the way—plus the option to do a shorter 25-mile or 45-mile trip—make the ride appealing for all levels of cyclists.

Though Scheib keeps fit with regular early morning runs along the Schuylkill River, he’s hardly an avid bike rider. Each year, he begins training in June for the September race. “Once it’s over,” he says, “I hang my bike back up on the wall.” During the summer he cycles once a week to prepare for the ride, starting out with a 20-mile ride and adding 10 miles a week until he’s up to 80 or 90.

Scheib averages 17-18 miles an hour, he says, but riders on the tour range from those keeping to a leisurely 7 miles an hour to super speedy cyclists who ride in a paceline and make it to the shore in about 3.5 hours. The ride takes place rain or shine, and Scheib remembers one year when he rode the entire 75 miles in a driving rainstorm. Even when the skies are clear, he says, “It always seems the wind is blowing into your face, even though the ride is east on the way there and west on the way back. I’m waiting for the one year we have a tailwind.”

Minor discomforts aside, Scheib says the ride is always a fun event, and since he’s been doing it for a decade he meets up with plenty of old friends along the route. Once the riders reach Ocean City they’re greeted with hot dogs, drinks and much needed on-the-spot massages. What’s most moving, though, says Scheib, are the crowds of people with MS, many in wheelchairs, who show up annually to cheer on the riders at the finish line. However tired you are, he says, “that really picks you up and reminds you why you’re doing it.”

As Scheib sets about raising money each spring, he says he is consistently surprised how many people know about MS. “I mean, it’s not cancer or heart disease. But every year people will write me notes saying their sister, cousin, daughter has MS. It’s amazing how many people’s lives have been impacted by MS. I’ve never really had to explain it to people.”

Scheib’s mother suffered from MS for the last 20 years of her life, and for the last 10 years she was unable to move. As the disease progressed, she became unable to speak and her son had to read her lips. “She never lost her mental abilities,” he says. “She was trapped in her body.”

Penn receives around $1.5 million a year in funding from the MS Society, and Scheib makes an effort to keep up with the most recent advances in knowledge about the disease. “I’ve gotten to know many of the physicians. That’s been a rewarding part of it.”

The City to Shore MS Bike Tour will take place September 29-30. If you’re interested in joining Team UPHS, email Garry Scheib at scheibg@uphs.upenn.edu or go to www.mscycling.org.

Originally published on June 7, 2007