Jo McGlin: "I'll walk until there's a cure"
When Jo McGlin was first diagnosed with MS in 1999, she didn’t know anyone else with the disease. “That was scary,” she recalled. But the single mother of three found a way to connect. “When you do a Challenge Walk, you may start out knowing nobody, but by the end of the weekend you have 400 new friends, true friends,” the San Diego native said.
Jo has done the three-day 50-mile Challenge Walk (watch her chapter's video of the event) each year since her chapter’s first one in 2002. It starts in a big, beautiful flower field and winds through multimillion-dollar estates, vibrant beach areas and downtown San Diego. “There are a couple of horrendous hills that everybody dreads,” she said. “The ‘Sole Survivors,’ as we call ourselves, try to pair up with people who haven’t done the walk before. If you’re talking, the hill doesn’t seem so bad. One walker sponsors ice cream cones at the top of the first huge one. Bribery gets you up!”
It’s a real hike, no doubt about it, but the support is phenomenal, Jo emphasizes, with rest stops every mile or so, and vans passing out water and checking up on participants. “We’ve got great weather and snack stations along the way. They feed you so well, it’s the only time you can walk 50 miles and gain weight! And we stay in hotels with Jacuzzis, massages, cocktails, swimming pools and hot meals.”
But it’s the companionship that is the biggest draw. “You share the sights, the sounds, the moans, the groans. People along the route are so encouraging. Strangers drive by and give us a thumbs up. We’ve had people hose us down with garden hoses when it’s too hot. People give us money along the way, too.”
All this and the opportunity to raise money for MS research. “My friend Jodi Haff said she would walk with me every year till we get a cure. And she has,” Jo said. Each walker has to guarantee $2,500, which Jo and Jodi manage. “We’re schoolteachers and we hit up the same teachers every year, with no corporate sponsors.” (If you want to sponsor Jo, click here.)
Going public about her condition is just as much a contribution as the money she raises. “I’m outspoken about my MS,” Jo says. “I’m going to deal with it and fight it all the way to the finish line, and I’m going to win. By the Society allowing me to be a spokesperson for the walk on TV promos and radio, I’ve been given the chance to put out the word and answer questions. So more people know more about the disease.
“I refer to MS as an entertaining disease because I never know what my body is going to do,” Jo continued. “I might be standing there and suddenly fall over. I look just like the next person but I have to fight for the rights of all people with disabilities. I teach special ed kids, who have so much stacked up against them. I say, these are the lemons I was tossed and this is how I fight my disease.”
It takes Jo three to four months to recover from the blisters, cramping, spasms and fatigue the three-day walk produces. “There’s nothing left in my body, but it doesn’t matter how long it takes to recover, how much I hurt,” she says. “I’ll do it until the finish line is a party because there’s a cure.”