Sept. 27, 2013, Southern California… Taking fate into her own hands, an Encinitas woman plans to walk 50 miles in three days as part of an upcoming fundraising event for Multiple Sclerosis, just two years after her own diagnosis. Held on September 27-29, the National MS Society’s Southern California Challenge Walk will begin that Friday morning at Carlsbad’s Flower Fields and end around noontime Sunday in downtown San Diego at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
Alison Billing (28) is a University of Hawaii alumni with a passion for aiding others and a major in Marine Biology. Working in the high paced environment of a local animal hospital, in 2011 Alison noticed odd symptoms that she had never before experienced. Persistent nausea and terrible vertigo overnight transitioned into tingling of the entire right side of her body, and at the urging of her father who is a doctor, she went to seek medical attention. Several CAT scans and MRIs later revealed that Alison had lesions on her brain and spinal chord; her neurologist from Scripps Medical Center determined she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic, unpredictable and disabling disease of the central nervous system with no known cause, cure or prevention.
Alison’s neurologist suggested she join a support group to help understand and come to terms with her diagnosis, which is how Alison became involved with the National MS Society.
Alison elaborates, “Joining an MS support group was the best thing I could have done for myself at the time. MS isn’t a part of popular knowledge, and I had never heard of it until I was diagnosed. A million questions run through your mind, and having a group of people your age who are going through similar situations is an immense help.”
Through her support group Alison learned about the Southern California Challenge Walk. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Southern California Challenge Walk MS is an annual event held in September where 250 walkers travel from the Carlsbad Flower Fields to Downtown San Diego; 50 miles total in three days to raise money and awareness for MS. If 50 miles in three days was not challenge enough, each walker must raise a minimum of $2,500 in donations in order to participate.
Without enough time to fundraise, Alison volunteered in the 2011 Challenge Walk instead as part of the crew for a day and worked at rest stops along the route to help encourage and aid walkers in any way. She immediately fell in love with the event and started brainstorming creative ways to fundraise for the next year. To make the somewhat daunting task fun, Alison holds hosted parties, like a Poker Tournament or her Party Lite event in 2012 where she partnered with a candle company and made just over $200. However, the biggest event Alison plans is a Grand Garage Sale with gifted items from family and friends throughout the community. Because items are donated, 100% of the earnings are able to go towards her fundraising efforts and in 2012 she made $1,300!
In preparation for the 2013 Challenge Walk, Alison has held a pampered chef party that earned her $200 in donations and raffle tickets alone, as well as the Grand Garage Sale, which gathered a great turnout and nearly $1,200 dollars towards her MS efforts. 2013 also marked the ‘1st Annual MS Society Charity Golf Tournament’ at the Lomas Sante Fe Country Club golf course. Alison worked with the golf resort to have donations included under the price of ticket admission for each of the 22 golfers, and consisted of a round of golf and donated raffle prizes, all bringing in a total of $750.
“The fundraising parties are a fun way to rally people around the cause,” Alison explains. “My friends and family are all very supportive, but I don’t like to just ask people for money. This way with the parties and events like a Poker or Golf Tournament, we can all do something together that will still contribute to MS.”
In addition to becoming an advocate for the MS Society’s effort to find a cure for MS, Alison decided to go back to school to join the medical field as a Radiology Technician.
About the Challenge Walk
The National MS Society’s Pacific South Coast Chapter said about 80 of the 220 walkers preparing for the upcoming 12th annual Challenge Walk have been diagnosed with MS, the most common neurological disease leading to disability in young‑ to middle‑aged adults. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and more than twice as many women as men have MS. MS interrupts the flow of information within the brain between the brain and the body. Symptoms cannot be predicted and can vary greatly, ranging from numbness in the limbs and extreme fatigue to loss of balance and muscle coordination or paralysis.
The Challenge Walk’s first day, 20-mile walk will begin at the Carlsbad Flower Fields and end at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar Hotel. The second day, 20-mile walk will begin at the hotel and end at Sunset Point in Mission Bay, where buses will shuttle walkers back to the hotel for a dinner and entertainment. The final day, 10-mile walk will begin at Sunset Point and end around noontime at Embarcadero Marina Park South, located behind the San Diego Convention Center in Downtown San Diego. Challenge Walk information, as well as donations to walkers, can be made at www.MyMSChallenge.com.
Since the event’s inception in 2002, when 179 local walkers raised $496,000, the Pacific South Coast Chapter’s Challenge Walk has raised a cumulative total of more than $10 million, among the highest dollar amounts of any of the nine other Challenge Walk MS events organized by the 50-state network for MS Society chapters in the U.S. The Southern California Challenge Walk MS, organized by both the San Diego-based Pacific South Coast Chapter and the Los Angeles-based Southern California & Nevada Chapter, is the only Challenge Walk west of the Mississippi River.