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Mountain Bike Express to benefit those with MS

July 07, 1998

Dave FlukeBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - This weekend, when competitors in a mountain bike race are rubber-legged with fatigue and fighting for control of aching muscles, they'll have an idea of what someone with multiple sclerosis goes through.

Dave Fluke of Falling Waters, W.Va., knows. The athlete was diagnosed with the neurological disease last October.

The Whitetail Ski Resort will host the Jimmie Heuga Toyota Mountain Bike Express at 9 a.m. Saturday. For three hours, 20 or more three-member teams of mountain bikers will spend three hours trying to record the most laps over a two-mile loop, according to Communications Manager Rachel Nichols.

"For a number of years I was a kayak racer. I was on the U.S. Whitewater Team in 1982 and 1984," Fluke, 45, said Tuesday. Cross-country skiing, downhill racing and triathlons were among the other sports in which he has competed, probably while having the disease.

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"During this whole time I had MS, I think, because I had unusual symptoms," Fluke said. He would get a cold or the flu and the symptoms would go away, but he'd feel exhausted for days afterward.

"I'd also get real dizzy while exercising," said Fluke, who has spent endless hours paddling the Cheat, New, Potomac and Youghiogheny rivers.

Multiple sclerosis, according to Fluke, is an autoimmune disease through which the body's immune system attacks the sheath around the nerve fibers. He said an estimated 500,000 Americans suffer from the incapacitating disease.

"There are many people, like myself, that don't know they have it for years," Fluke said.

His diagnosis led him to a Jimmie Heuga clinic in Collingwood, Ontario, where he spent five days in June. Heuga, a bronze medalist skier with the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1960s, was diagnosed with the disease in 1970 at the age of 26.

Told to take it easy, the standard prescription in those days, Heuga took his life into his own hands in 1975, beginning a regimen of bicycling, stretching and strength exercises to meet his goals of wellness. In 1984 he founded the Jimmie Heuga Center in Edwards, Colo. Satellite clinics are now held throughout North America.

"We reanimate the physically challenged," is a slogan of the center, according to Fluke. That means more exercise for most people with MS, but not in Fluke's case.

"They toned down my exercise, both in duration and intensity," he said. The center recommended a regimen of 20-minute workouts on a bike or in a kayak, three to five times a week. A set of aquatic exercises was also prescribed to work muscles that have gotten weaker.

"They did a complete physical exam. They checked every muscle and joint in my body," Fluke said. He said most of the physical therapists, exercise physiologists, neurologists and psychologists had been with the center for several years.

"They drilled it into my brain that by reducing the intensity and duration, I don't get as tired out. Before, I was pushing myself to the limit," he said.

His parents from Ebensburg, Pa., also attended the clinic.

"They have a whole different program for what they call 'significant others,'" he said.

An engineer with the Maryland Department of the Environment, Fluke said his co-workers have also been very supportive since his diagnosis.

"I'm still learning about MS ... but I learned a whole lot at that clinic," he said. Next week he will speak to an MS support group in Hagerstown.

The teams that will compete Saturday had to raise at least $100 to enter, according to Nichols.

The winners get an all-expense-paid trip to Vail, Colo., to compete in the national finals Sept. 17-20, Nichols said.

Twenty-five percent of the money raised will be used to help local people attend Heuga clinics, Nichols said.

Competitions are being held at about 20 sites across North America, she said. This is the fourth year it has been held at Whitetail.

Fluke said he will be there Saturday, but don't expect to recognize him by any disability.

"A lot of people don't realize I have any problems," he said.

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