Pedaling for principles: Houston cyclists choose to not ride on Sunday

By Ramona Siddoway

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 20 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Neal Rackleff and David Jones show their exhaustion after cycling 143 miles in one day for the MS 150 fundraiser.

Christa Rackleff

How far would you go to uphold your principles? Better yet, how far would you pedal — more than 140 miles? How about also burning more than 8,200 calories and helping out a good cause?

Ah, but one more thing. It has to be done in one day.

This is what two Houstonians did. In April of this year, avid bike riders and Mormons, Neal Rackleff and David Jones entered the MS 150 ride, a 180-mile, two-day, grueling cycling ride from Houston to Austin to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

But as cool as they thought the fundraiser was, these two members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were concerned about riding on Sunday, a day they have chosen to honor and respect as the Sabbath.

“Besides contributing for a really good cause, I wanted (to do the one-day trip) for my kids,” said Rackleff. “I wanted them to know that their dad would not ride on a Sunday.”

The BP MS 150 is an annual two-day fundraising cycling ride. This event attracts an estimated 13,000 riders. Funds raised support cutting-edge research, programs and services provided by the Multiple Sclerosis Society that benefit thousands of Texans impacted by MS.

“Last year we broke our record with nearly $17.6 million,” said Melissa Hand, brand development coordinator and public relations spokeswoman. “This year we aim to raise $18 million.”

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, progressive disease that attacks the central nervous system, causing damage to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. MS can cause numbness, fatigue, blurred vision, speech impairment and problems with muscle coordination.

Neither Rackleff nor Jones, both members of the Klein Texas Stake, have any personal ties to someone with MS, but they both felt this was a worthy cause.

To make the two-day ride in a single day, the two men set out from Houston at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 20. They pulled into Austin at 8:30 that night, pedaling a total of 9 hours and 25 minutes. Their average speed was 15.5 miles per hour. They both agreed, however, that it was a continual fight of the mental over the physical.

“The hardest part of the ride was hours six through eight,” said Jones. “At mile 80 we had to think of the rest of the ride in three 20-minute segments. The last hour wasn’t as bad. We just thought, ‘We’re going to make it!’ ”

“You need to find someone to ride with that rides the same as you,” said Rackleff, “the same style, same speed so you can help each other. You have to be accommodating of each other and work together.”

“I wanted to make sure I was there for Neal as a teammate,” reiterated Jones.

A huge support for all of the MS 150 riders were the people scattered along the route cheering them on. Several people had handwritten signs thanking the riders for their efforts in eradicating MS. At one point there was even a small group of musicians with fiddles and a bass playing country music.

“Riding through some of these small towns we felt like we were part of a parade,” said Rackleff. “Entire families were out, having picnics, cheering us on. It was pretty cool.”

Rackleff said the other teammates were all supportive of his decision to not ride on Sunday. However, they were surprised to learn that he actually did it.

Although there wasn’t a banner waving or a big celebration waiting for them in Austin like for the Sunday riders, waiting for the two friends were both of their wives; that and the satisfaction that they reached their ultimate goal of finishing the ride in one day, going the full distance for a worthy cause, and holding fast to their core principles of keeping the Sabbath.

“It was very gratifying to pull up to the capital in Austin just as the sun was going down,” Rackleff said.

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