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Area man pedals for, with his family

This year’s Bike MS: bkm/Steelcase Ride spokesperson is one of four in his family living with MS

By Lisa Cook, National Multiple Sclerosis, Connecticut Chapter

DuboisEAST HARTFORD, Conn. — At age 19 Jeff Dubois pedaled his bicycle from East Hartford to Florida — about 1,300 miles — with some buddies. They made the trip in 13 days. "Believe me, I could have done it in 10 days but I had to wait for those other guys," he says. Sitting in a cushioned chair at his kitchen table, the East Hartford resident’s confident grin and whip-thin look leave no doubt he could have done just that. Dubois’ son, Corey, is half-reclined in a couch across from his dad. Corey Dubois is 19 now — the same age as his father when he rode to Florida. The younger man laughs at the idea he could duplicate his father’s feat. "No way," he says. "I don’t have the same heart. I wouldn’t ride to Florida." Hearing that, Jeff Dubois pauses for a moment, then shrugs. "It’s not in me to do that now. I wish it was," he says.

Vision problems, numbness

Dubois was 33 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of MS can include numbness in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The disease presents itself differently in each person. For Dubois, now 50, the first inkling was vision problems: one eye didn’t register colors as brightly as the other. The second indicator was numbness in his legs. An MRI eventually confirmed that Dubois had the tell-tale lesions of someone with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system.

Dubois is gearing up this year for his 27th consecutive Bike MS Ride — a two- to 100-mile bicycle ride to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter. Dubois hasn’t missed a year since the event began in 1981, and will serve as spokesperson for this year’s Bike MS: bkm/Steelcase Ride, Sunday, June 1.

The irony is, Dubois originally signed up for the ride to honor his father, who lives with MS. Two of Dubois’ sisters would eventually hear the same diagnosis. There are about 6,000 people in Connecticut living with the effects of MS; there is currently no cure.

Easier to ride

These days Dubois actually finds it easier to ride his bicycle than to walk. For one thing, he can sit down on his bicycle, reducing the demand on his legs. Plus, the act of pedaling means the muscles of one leg can help the other get around, reducing the strain. Dubois uses clipless pedals, which allow him to snap a special cycling shoe into place. Every day he rides the two miles to his job as a maintenance mechanic on second shift at East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney. "He’s the hardest worker there," says Dennis Towhill, a Pratt & Whitney employee who has known Dubois for 15 years. "He gives his all whether he feels good or not. He’s certainly a role model, with just unbelievable determination."

Towhill, a cabinetmaker/carpenter at Pratt & Whitney, remembers one job that required Dubois to use a 3-foot-long torque wrench to tighten bolts for hanging steel. It takes about 4,500 foot pounds of torque to tighten the bolts properly. "Most guys couldn’t do that," he says. But when Towhill told his friend to put down the wrench and let someone else do the job, he was met with a typical Jeff Dubois reaction. "He just gave me that look. Then he grabbed the wrench and went to work."

The question of heredity

CoreyDubois began his career working in his father’s metal fabrication shop. Henry Dubois, a steel stair specialist, dealt with years of health problems and inconclusive tests, before physicians finally put a name to what he was facing: multiple sclerosis. "Just after he was diagnosed they started the first bike tour. I was like, ‘I’m in.’ This would be a good tribute," he says. He pauses, then shrugs again. "At that time they kept saying ‘It’s not hereditary. It’s not hereditary.’ " Dubois was diagnosed in 1991. A year later his sister was diagnosed. Last year his youngest sister was also told she has MS. "We have one other sister. She seems to be fine," he says.

Most scientists who study MS now believe heredity is one factor that determines who contracts the disease, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

People whose parents or siblings were diagnosed with MS have between a 1-in- 100 and a 1-in-40 chance of also developing MS, according to research done by the society. For an identical twin of someone with MS, the odds become 1 in 3. The average person in the United States has about 1 chance in 750 of developing MS.

The next generation

Corey Dubois has taken part in every Bike MS ride since he was born, starting at the age of six months, riding on the back of his father’s bicycle. The father and son can’t quite decide at what age the younger Dubois started riding on his own — the father insists he was 10, while Corey says he was younger — but now the 19-year-old out-paces his father every year. Except for last year, when he was slowed down by knee surgery. "I couldn’t stand up to pedal," says Corey from his spot on the couch.

Dubois, sitting across the way, isn’t going to let that one slide by. He points a finger at his son "I can’t stand up to pedal," he says. Despite a second knee surgery this fall, Corey says he will be back for the June 1 event. "I’m healthy," he says. "I’ve got every reason to ride, and not a single reason not to ride."1,300 miles more

So far the Dubois family has brought in about $15,000 toward MS research. Dubois and his son will once again ride as part of the Maag Wheels team — captained by Billy Maag — which raised the most money last year, bringing in $71,682. The dollars go toward local chapter programs and services, and scientific research to find a cure.

So just how far has Dubois pedaled in his 26 years of the Bike MS tour? He and Corey start calculating. There was eight years of the 100-mile tour; then he took on the 50-mile route once Corey was born; the family tour with Dubois’s wife, Suzette, for four or five years — that was 10 miles; and then there was that one painful year they did the mountain tour ("That one killed me," he says). Some quick scratching on a note pad and the numbers come together: slightly more than 1,300 miles.

Dubois sits back to consider the tally. And then he smiles."So it’s like I rode to Florida twice."

The 2008 Bike MS bkm/Steelcase Ride takes place Sunday, June 1, at Griffin Center in Windsor, Conn. Riders can choose from two-, 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-mile routes. The Bike MS Down to the Sound Ride takes place Sunday, June 22, at Westport, Conn., for 12-, 30- and 60-mile routes. For more information or to register visit, or contact Amanda Barry, development coordinator with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter, at 860-714-2300, ext. 227.


 PHOTO 1: Jeff Dubois, right, and his son, Corey, stand on the iron staircase in their house. The staircase was built by Dubois’ father, who lives with multiple sclerosis. Dubois, who is the 2008 Bike MS: bkm/Steelcase Ride spokesperson, began riding in honor of his father.

PHOTO 2: Corey Dubois gets ready for the 1992 ride.


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