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Hagerstown man honored for volunteer efforts in fight against MS

Michael Tomlin was diagnosed with the disease five years ago and has participated in numerous fundraisers for MS research

January 03, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Michael Tomlin was honored for his MS volunteer efforts on Nov. 13 during the Maryland Chapter's annual Research Symposium and Volunteer Awards at Martin's West in Baltimore.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

It’s been more than five years since Michael Tomlin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The diagnosis, made just before his 30th birthday, was two years in coming as other medical conditions were ruled out.

Tomlin said it’s a hard disease to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to Lyme disease and lupus. He said in 2005 his eyes “started acting up,” then the right side of his body went numb.

It took four MRIs before the telltale MS lesions showed up.

In some ways, the diagnosis was a positive turning point for Tomlin, 35. Since then, he’s lost 50 pounds by eating healthier and making exercise a priority.

His improved fitness level also means he’s in shape for the MS fundraisers that have helped him raise money for MS research.

“If you keep moving, you keep ahead of the disease,” said Tomlin, who recently received the Ed Duggan Community Champion Award for Mission advancement by the National MS Society, Maryland Chapter.

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The 1995 Catoctin High School graduate grew up on farms in Mount Airy and Rocky Ridge and served in the U.S. Navy for four years.

“I had two tours in the Persian Gulf during the Clinton Administration. I liked it. It helped me grow up a little bit,” Tomlin said.

Stationed in Norfolk, Va., Tomlin returned to Frederick on weekends and worked in his cousin’s restaurant.

He planned on pursuing culinary arts once he got out of the Navy, but began a temp job with Wells Fargo in Frederick in 2001.

That’s where he met Leann Dawson from Hagerstown, who also worked as a temp.

They moved here almost six years ago and married in 2008.

Leann moved on to another job and is a full-time student. Mike has worked 11 years at Wells Fargo, where he is a quality assurance analyst.

Tomlin is in his second semester of classes at Hagerstown Community College, inspired by his wife who will earn her associate degree in June, he said. He’s working on an associate degree in business administration, then will pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management.

His commitment to fitness started with an MS walk in Frederick with a Wells Fargo coworker who has MS, then a month later with a walk in Hagerstown. Then he participated in an MS bike ride in Chestertown, Md. in June 2009.

“I was crushed. It was so hot and I hadn’t ridden in four or five years,” Tomlin said.

His commitment was erratic at first. Then a minor stroke in September 2010 hit home. “After the stroke, I had a new determination. I stepped it up,” said Tomlin, who began going to the gym three to four days a week.

“Once I started going to the gym, I lost weight and was feeling better. I could speak better, my balance was better and I could think clearer,” he said. 

Tomlin started preparing for the next bike ride, eventually switching from the mountain bike he was riding to a road bike.

“That’s when the pounds started falling off,” said Tomlin.

He credits Leann for her support. She does the walks with him and volunteers at the bike rides.

“She’s been with me since the beginning and really supported me and helped push me,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said his other motivation is his mother, who beat colon cancer and has been cancer-free for three years.  

Tomlin was honored for his MS volunteer efforts on Nov. 13 during the Maryland Chapter’s annual Research Symposium and Volunteer Awards at Martin’s West in Baltimore.

“Over the last four years, in addition to recruiting others and increasing awareness in the community, Tomlin has participated in eight Walk MS events, and a handful of bike MS  rides, raising thousands for MS research,” a news release for the Maryland Chapter said.

“My first question was ‘Why me?’ I’ve met people who have had a much rougher time with MS who are also involved,” Tomlin said.

The last two years, Tomlin rode in 100 milers and this year, along with Wells Fargo teammates, rode 61 miles in bike MS: Bike to Bordeaux, which he helped to organize.

“MS affects everybody differently. I’ve had a pretty mild MS experience, I think,” Tomlin said.

He also credits a “very proactive” neurologist in Frederick, where he was living at the time of his diagnosis, for the disease modifying drug he is on.

More details can be found to the Facebook page Mike Bikes for MS, created by Tomlin to track his efforts over the past four years.

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