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Battle against MS fought at Antietam

April 17, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Participants leave the starting line for the Western Maryland Walk MS at Antietam National Battlefield, a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
By Kelly Hahn Johnson, Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Shirley Hoake wasn't the type of person to keep secrets.

She actually loved to gossip, her granddaughter admitted.

But for four years, the Hagerstown woman carried around a burden that she only shared with her family.

She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"Grandma didn't want people to feel sorry for her," Tina McCourt said. "She wasn't big on pity parties."

McCourt said her grandmother eventually had to share her secret with others, especially when her loss of balance, numbness and extreme fatigue became more evident.

"But she never complained," McCourt said. "She was an example to everyone who knew her on how to live with dignity."

McCourt, 22, honored her grandmother's memory Saturday morning by participating with family and friends in the Western Maryland Walk MS at Antietam National Battlefield.

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"There wasn't a cure for my grandmother, who died last year," she said. "But maybe one day there will be a cure for others."

About 800 people joined in the annual fundraising event, one of 10 MS walks scheduled across Maryland throughout April.

Jessica Potter, Western Maryland development coordinator, said the event was expected to raise about $75,000, which will be used for research, programs and services for those living with multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system.

Potter said the walk at Antietam is one of the most successful walks in the state.

"We think one reason is the location," she said. "It's held at a national battlefield, where people are surrounded by history. But it's also because of the dedicated people who come out for this cause. The local support is wonderful."

Potter said walkers had a choice of hiking a three-mile or five-mile path.

In addition to individual participants, there were more than 70 teams in this year's event, she said.

As participants approached the finish line, a group of volunteers was on hand to congratulate them with cheers and handshakes.

"It's great to see their faces when we welcome them back," Bonnie Sisco said. "They really light up. They're tired, but they're smiling."

"I've done these walks before and it's a great feeling to have someone offering that encouragement," volunteer Jodi Gibson said. "It's appreciation for a job well done."

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