Cyclist takes on Lyme . . . literally

MANCHESTER - It was in a recent visit to the doctor early one morning that Eric Scheer - a unicyclist who has competed in the Gear Up for Lyme race and the Bike Up the Mountain Points Series (BUMPS) - learned that he had Lyme Disease.

The news did not deter Scheer from entering this year's Gear Up for Lyme Uphill Bike Race.

"I went to the doctor's that morning and they said I had Lyme and I didn't even think about it because I planned on signing up. I just forgot. I hadn't signed up yet, [but] I had already made hotel reservations," said Scheer. "I had actually forgotten that it was a race to benefit Lyme research."

Scheer signed up that evening and when the race begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, unlike many other riders Scheer will begin the arduous 5.4 mile trek on a unicycle up Mt. Equinox Skyline Drive to the finish line at the top of Mt. Equinox.

Given the recent diagnosis, Scheer said this year's Gear Up for Lyme race hits home a bit more.

"It certainly becomes a little more personal," said Scheer. "It would be nice to have a longer term cure than just waiting to feel the effects of it and then go get tested. So, it's good to do some research going into it that might lead to some kind of a long term [cure.]"

The race serves as the primary fund raiser for the Manchester Rotary Club, which puts on the event. Fifty percent of the proceeds benefit the Lyme Disease Association while the other half is used to fund the rotary club's charitable works, which in the past has included two scholarships that have been awarded on an annual basis. The recipients receive $1,000 annually for four years as long as they are enrolled in a college or university.

One of the benefits of the race, according to its founder and race director Andy Holzman, is that is not just to help raise money for the Lyme Disease Association so that they might find a long term cure of Lyme Disease, but also to build awareness throughout communities in southern Vermont.

"Unfortunately the prevalence of the disease continues to increase. In the last year the CDC, nationally, report cases of 300,000 people throughout the U.S.; approximately 25,000 cases per month," said Holzman. "The number is 674 in Vermont, reported cases of Lyme Disease last year and generally speaking we multiply that by 10 because according to the CDC Lyme Disease is underreported by a factor of 10. So, even the small state of Vermont where we've got a population of about 600,000 there were over 6,000 cases of Lyme Disease last year."

As of Monday, about 50 people had registered for the race, which is similar to the same time last year.

Holzman is hoping to get somewhere between 60-80 more registrations by the time pre-registration comes to a close next Tuesday, July 29, at 7 p.m. Registration will also be open on Friday, Aug. 1, from 4-7 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 2, beginning at 5:30 a.m. until 7 a.m. for those who want to participate.

Part of the draw, Holzman indicated, was that the event is part of the BUMPS series.

"I think always these types of events attract people who are always looking for a firm challenge to race up either Mt. Equinox or any of the other bike races that are part of the BUMPS series," said Holzman.

While he is not competing in the BUMPS series this year, the Gear Up for Lyme race was one of the events that Scheer has competed in in the past as pert of the series. In fact, among all the cycling events he has competed in, he said the Gear Up for Lyme race was the second most difficult race in New England - next to Mt. Washington - in which he's competed.

"The pitch is not as long as a few of them, but the pitch is actually even greater, 5 percent more, than Washington," said Scheer.

In addition to some of the riders like Scheer who might be competing in the BUMPS series, there are also other people that participate in the race, such as Robin and Amy Verner, not only to help raise money for the cause, but as a way to challenge themselves as well.

"Neither of us race," said Amy Verner. "We're doing a race for Lyme Disease not for the event of just racing up a mountain."

Robin Verner said one of the appeals of the race is simply to complete it because it is "quite a challenge."

"When you're done at the top you're done," said Robin Verner. "It's pretty hard. It's a 12 percent grade for a little over five miles. It's 3,200 feet elevation. And the maximum is two hours. If you don't finish in two hours they pick you up in a van."

In the 11 years that the race has been taking place, Holzman said he believes they have raised close to $100,000 for the Lyme Disease Association. In recent years though the race has become a bit more difficult for the Rotary Club to organize as the number of members have been shrinking. Holzman said they are currently looking to partner with other organizations so that the event does not fall by the wayside. Some of the current participants, such as Amy and Robin Verner, said part of the reason they participate is to help ensure its survival.

"We want to support anything for Lyme Disease and we do want to keep this going in Manchester on Equinox," said Amy Verner. "That's a pretty special place to have an event."


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