When Kurt Rishel signed up to ride his bicycle across the country to support multiple sclerosis, he didn't know of anyone with the disease.
The 21-year-old athlete started cycling after graduating from Central York High School in 2010. He needed something to fill the void of competitive sports -- soccer and track -- and cycling became a passion.
Rishel has wanted to ride across the country since he read an article about someone who made the trek a few years ago. When he learned about Bike the US for MS -- a nonprofit that raises money for research and treatment -- he felt he had to get involved.
On June 1, Rishel plans to dip the back tire of his bicycle in the Atlantic Ocean in Yorktowne, Va., before embarking on a 3,785-mile ride for two months.
The nonprofit provides participants with route leaders who drive a trailer, where cyclists may store a few pairs of bike shorts, a tent, a sleeping bag and some nonperishable food in a 30-by-16-by-18-inch cubby.
Rishel will travel about 65 miles per day through nine states -- Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.
He'll sleep in campgrounds, backyards and churches, and do his laundry in laundromats and streams. He'll plan meals day to day, preparing some on his own or grabbing a quick bite at a restaurant.
When he gets to San Francisco, he'll dip his front tire in the Pacific Ocean before flying home.
Rishel plans to apply for medical school after he graduates next year, so he figures now is the time for adventure.
"This is the last chance I will have to do something like this for a long time," he said.
As of late January, he had raised $2,500 of the minimum $3,785 required -- $1 per mile. According to the website, 90 percent of money raised supports MS research. Cyclists pay for all personal expenses, such as food. Along the way, they also volunteer for people who have MS, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
About 400,000 Americans and 2.1 million people worldwide have MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Symptoms vary and can include muscle spasms, double vision, weakness and difficulty moving one's arms and legs. Some people who have MS use a wheelchair.
When Rishel began fundraising last fall, he started to learn of people who have the disease. His childhood friend's mom has MS, along with his dad's co-worker. He said a lot of people know someone who has it.
As someone who loves athletics, he said, he can't imagine his ability being hampered by such a disease.
"If that was taken away from me, I don't know what I would do," Rishel said.
So he feels grateful to be able to ride in support of people who suffer from MS.
His father, Jeff Rishel of Manchester Township, said it took some convincing before he and his wife, Erin, were on board with the trip. But, he said, his son has always been persistent.
"We were kind of ignoring him," Jeff Rishel joked, adding that they soon realized this was something Kurt really wanted to do.
He said he and Erin realized that this ride was a chance for Kurt to mature because his trip has a purpose and he'll have to make
"He's not only riding for MS," Jeff Rishel said. "He's riding for people he knows."
Phone: 717-771-2101; On Twitter: @leighzaleski
Lives in: Pittsburgh
Education: Central York High School (2010), junior chemistry and pre-med major at University of Pittsburgh
Family: Parents Jeff and Erin Rishel, and brother, Erik, 16, all of Manchester Township
Follow along: Rishel plans to do daily updates of his trip starting June 1. Follow him on Twitter @KurtRishel4.
Bike the US for MS
Bike the US for MS organizes cross-country bike trips that raise awareness and money for multiple sclerosis research. Cyclists also do service projects for MS patients during some stops.
Participants must raise a minimum of $1 per mile. The TransAm route is 3,785 miles, and the Northern Tier is 4,295 miles.
Money raised in 2013 will support the James Q. Miller Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Charlottesville, Va., the Swedish MS Center in Seattle, and Fairview Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Center in St. Paul, Minn., along with home-modification projects across the U.S.
Since 2007, the nonprofit has raised more than $600,000.
As of Jan. 28, Kurt Rishel had raised $2,500 of his minimum $3,785 goal for Bike the US for MS. To donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or donate in his name at www.biketheusforms.org or via Bike the US for MS, P.O. Box 10001, Blacksburg, Va., 24062.
Multiple sclerosis is a potentially debilitating disease in which the body's immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers one's nerves. This interferes with communication between the brain and the body. Ultimately, this might result in deterioration of the nerves, a process that's irreversible.
Symptoms vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and which nerves are affected. People with severe cases of multiple sclerosis might lose the ability to walk or speak.
In rare cases, MS is so malignantly progressive it is terminal, but most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy. Severe MS can shorten one's life.
Multiple sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early in the course of the disease because symptoms often come and go -- sometimes disappearing for months.
There's no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments can help treat attacks, modify the course of the disease and mitigate symptoms.
-- The Mayo Clinic, National Multiple Sclerosis Society