May 12, 2011
By Michael Curet, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—Fans, volunteers and staff at the THE PLAYERS on Thursday were seeing orange, and it wasn’t because the Florida Gators were in town. This was a pep rally of a different sort as the PGA TOUR sponsored “MS Day” encouraging everyone to don bright orange ribbons and T-shirts to create awareness for multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects 400,000 people in the United States.
Officials distributed 15,000 ribbons by day’s end, while the TOUR also set up two “Pedal to THE PLAYERS” bike valets at two key entrance locations to TPC Sawgrass. For a donation of $5, fans riding bikes to the course parked all day and received a t-shirt and bottled water from an MS volunteer.
Even the golfers and caddies couldn't help noticing the sprinklings of orange as they approached each tee box and green.
“We have had a long-standing relationship with THE PLAYERS and the PGA TOUR,” said National MS Society North Florida Chapter President Corrina Steiger. “THE TOUR is one of our largest corporate contributors. We know thousands are supporting us out here today and, thanks to a generous gift from PSS World Medical, we have a chalet on the 17th hole where volunteers, donors and people with MS can come out and enjoy the day.”
Jill Pewitt, a 45-year-old Ponte Vedra Beach resident, has multiple sclerosis. That hasn’t stopped her from volunteering for the last six years, and Thursday she was glad to be handing out ribbons for a cause that hits home.
“I’m still able to do everything I was able to do before being diagnosed, including my walks and bike rides,” said Pewitt. “The first year I was very overwhelmed with what it might mean as far as a disability, but after I got education from the MS society, I found out that my life is not really changing that much. It’s not a death sentence, either. I encourage everyone to get educated about it and see what’s available out there with medication. The society has been great with everything they’ve done with support, research and education.”
THE PLAYERS and MS are tied together in another way, as well. In 1984, Jacksonville’s Donnie Wanstall was caddying for PGA TOUR player Mark O’Meara when he lost feeling in his lower extremities and began having spasms in his legs on the Stadium Course. On the second day of the tournament, he had to be brought back to the clubhouse in a golf cart and later learned those symptoms were due to multiple sclerosis.
Today, Wanstall lives with his wife in Atlantic Beach, where the couple owns a gift shop. As a spokesperson and volunteer, he serves on the board of the North Florida MS Society.
“More women typically get [MS] than men, and it generally affects adults between ages 20 and 40,” said Steiger. “Some of the invisible symptoms are the most difficult to live with such as fatigue and memory loss, which prevents them from working. But MS is not a fatal disease, and in the last 15 years nearly a dozen therapies have been developed to help treat the course of MS and help with the symptoms. Last year, the first oral therapy for MS was developed and first symptom specific medication that helps MS patients walk better.”
This fall, the PGA TOUR celebrates the 25th year of participation in the Cycle to the Shore race set for Oct. 1-2. The event is hosted by the National MS Society and runs from the St. Augustine Airport to Daytona Beach.
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