SMETHPORT — For part of this summer, Natalya Nannen of Smethport will experience an opportunity of a lifetime as she travels throughout the United States on a bicycle.
She will be part of a group of riders of Bike the US for MS, a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis research, who leave Yorktown, Va., on June 1, embarking on a 3,785-mile TransAmerica Ride route that will take them through nine states to San Francisco, Calif., by Aug. 1.
After graduating from Smethport Area High School in 2012, she continued her education at Allegheny College in Meadville, earning a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.
For the past two years, Nannen has been employed as a neurotechnologist in the operating room at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where she monitors different neurosurgery cases.
This fall, she’ll begin studies for her master’s degree in the physician assistant curriculum at Gannon University’s Bradenton, Fla., campus.
How did she learn about Bike the US for MS?
“I was doing research on the internet because I wanted to do a trans-America bike ride that would benefit other people,” she told The Era. “I know there are a lot of ways people can do a charity bike ride, and I chose this one because of my interest in MS research and my background in healthcare.”
MS is a progressive disease of the central nervous system in which the scattered patches of the protective covering of nerve fibers in the brain are damaged. According to Nannen, “MS affects vision, speaking ability, and eventually, walking. It’s found more frequently in people of European descent.”
Physical therapy can help, although life expectancy can be five to ten years lower than the general population.
The cause remains unknown.
After years as a runner — she was a strong runner in the distance events for the Lady Hubbers’ track team from 2009-12 — she successfully made the adjustment to cycling only recently. She said, “Actually, I began riding seriously just four years ago.”
Of course, training for such a long ride requires much preparation. For Nannen, that means working around her hospital duties. “Working in the O.R. makes it difficult to get in a lot of riding, so I have been doing a lot of high-intensity workouts” she said. “When I do have a chance to get outdoors, I do much hillclimbing since obviously, I’ll be riding over mountain ranges. Then on weekends, when I’m not on call, I go on longer rides.”
But, she added, “This is a ride and not a race and something that has to be taken a day at a time.”
Nannen’s bike has 27 speeds. She will carry a bag of tools on the bike. Adhering to their schedule, the riders expect to average 60-80 miles a day for six days a week. The longest day could be 100 miles, while the shortest day could be reduced to 45 miles and that’s in a mountain range.
“Since this is a supported ride,” Nannen explained, “a van will meet us halfway through every day at our checkpoint when we can get food and water before continuing on.”
At night, the riders will be camping, often at national parks or churches.
On the seventh day, the riders take a break from the road, but this certainly won’t be a day of rest, according to Nannen. “That day we’ll be helping those with MS and unable to perform many tasks.”
Once the group arrives at San Francisco, Nannen plans to ship her bike back to Smethport and then fly home.
Is this the biggest challenge of her young life? “Yes, definitely. There’s no doubt about that!” she exclaimed.
So far, Nannen has raised approximately 43 percent of the trip’s cost — with about another $2,000 to go before the start of the ride.
There are two ways to contribute. Contributors can go to BiketheUSforMS.org website. Go to the second link: Routes and Teams Registration. Under the TransAmerican donate button, search for Nannen’s name.
Checks are also accepted. Make the checks out to Bike the US for MS, put Natalya Nannen’s name on the memo line and mail to Bike the US for MS, P. O. Box 10001, Blacksburg, VA 24062.