Last fall Michael Zimits rode shoulder-to-shoulder with 40 other cyclists as they made their way through the Pyrenees from France to Spain. Traveling some of the same terrain as world-class cyclists in the Tour de France, Zimits, of Massapequa Park, is on a mission.
Eight years ago, Zimits, now 43, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Until then, he’d spent much of his adult life on Wall Street and was packing a hundred extra pounds of the good life. His legs and arms were tingly and numb. That wasn’t his only problem: All his medical tests – the blood pressure, the cholesterol – were pointing in the wrong direction. He was a physical wreck.
“I realized that I couldn’t let multiple sclerosis beat me,” said Zimits, a father of two. This weeklong ride, produced by the Tyler Hamilton Foundation and sponsored by Serono (a company that makes an MS drug called Rebif), spanned over 300 miles. A handful of the cyclists are individuals with MS. The others are supporters, including Zimits’ cycling group, the Bike Junkies.
Multiple sclerosis has left its mark on Zimits. He can no longer feel his left leg from the knee to his toes, and his left arm is in similar condition. His right fingers also are numb, as well as the front of his right foot. But that didn’t stop him from training for and riding in the tour, designed to spread the word about the disease and the research efforts under way.
This is his third international MS tour. “I count myself very lucky,” he said. “I spent a year relearning to tie my shoes and button my shirt. Then, I realized that my life was like an endurance sport.”
Zimits began with 15 miles in 1999. Today, he can do more than 100 miles in a day. He’s dropped more than 100 pounds, and he’s in the best physical shape of his life, apart from his MS. The disease waxes and wanes, and he hasn’t had an episode in more than three years. He credits his medicine and his biking. “MS hasn’t stopped me. In fact, it made me a different person,” he said.
Today, he owns seven bikes and uses his rides as a vehicle for MS education. MS is a neurological disease that can cause a wide range of problems, including weakness and partial paralysis. Half a million Americans and over 2.5 million worldwide live with the disease