Steamboat Springs Barbara Sanders was taking a written test during her freshman year of high school when her hand went numb and she couldn't write. That day marked the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease she has battled for 42 years.
The Vertical Express for MS fundraiser Sunday will raise money to help people such as Sanders participate in the CAN DO program, which was designed by former Olympic skier Jimmie Heuga, who has battled MS for more than 30 years.
The program teaches people with MS how to use exercise, nutrition and psychological motivation to help manage their lives. Sanders went through the five-day program in 2002.
"One reason maybe why my disease hasn't progressed badly is because I was very physically active," Sanders said. "That's Jimmie's whole premise."
Depression is one of the most prevalent and difficult aspects of the disease. An uplifting moment in the program for Sanders was during a session with exercise balls. "What I found remarkable was by the end of the session, the people that I saw earlier with the saddest looks on their faces, were now bouncing around and had smiles on their faces. It was amazing," Sanders said.
There are typically 12 to 15 teams participating in the Vertical Express for MS each year, and the entrance fee per three-person team is $1,000. Each team will participate in two of the three events on the ski mountain -- the dual giant slalom, the mountain challenge poker run and the mountain challenge marathon.
Sanders said her friend told her that he loves the event because "you can go as fast as you want down See Me and not get your pass taken."
The event includes breakfast, lunch and an awards banquet at the Ore House. Prizes are given away and any team that raises at least $15,000 wins an all expense-paid trip to the Vertical Express Awards in Vail to compete in the finals and ski with a celebrity.
Event Director Jill Waldman said the event raised $100,000 last year.
"Since the inception of the event, 1,000 people in Routt County have either been part of the event or have MS and have gone through the program," Waldman said.
The fundraiser still needs volunteers, local businesses to donate prizes and more teams. Registration is from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the Round-up Room in Gondola Square.
For more information, call Jill Waldman at 879-9020 and visit www.verticalexpress.org.