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Carmel Valley mom pedals for multiple sclerosis

First, it was a vision problem for Carmel Valley resident Joanna Powell. Then, her left leg started dragging. After medical tests were conducted, the diagnosis was multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable and disabling disease of the central nervous system with no known cause, cure or prevention.

Powell was 29 years old at the time. MS is the most common neurological disease leading to disability in young‑ to middle‑aged adults. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and more than twice as many women as men have MS.

Today, Powell’s message to her community is, “MS does not define who I am.”

For the second time in three years, Powell will join up to 2,500 cyclists peddling at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual Bike MS Bay to Bay Tour, a cycling fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22 and 23.

Powell, 35, missed riding last year because she was pregnant with her daughter, now seven months old. So, instead, Joanna and husband Chris volunteered at the two-day fundraiser. The couple has been married for four years. “Chris is a wonderful and supportive care partner,” said Joanna.

The National MS Society’s cycling fundraiser begins in Irvine, Calif. on Saturday morning, Oct. 22. Riders will follow either a 50-mile or 100-mile route from Orange County to Carlsbad and the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa near the Legoland theme park. Powell will ride 50 miles. Then, on Sunday morning, the ride will begin at the Sheraton and end at San Diego’s Mission Bay area. The finish line is at Hospitality Point on Quivara Way in Mission Bay.

The Sunday route will head south through Leucadia, Encinitas and Cardiff. After a rest stop in Solana Beach, the cyclists will proceed up the grueling Torrey Pines Hill to North Torrey Pines Road, down the steep La Jolla Shores Drive and through La Jolla and Pacific Beach, including such streets as Crown Point Drive, Pacific Beach Drive and Grand Avenue.

“The Torrey Pines hill is the toughest, but at the finish line it’s like you’ve won an Olympic gold medal,” said Joanna. “The entire weekend is so motivating and inspirational to me. Anybody who has a bike can participate.”

This year’s 29th annual Bike MS Bay to Bay Tour Four features four different cycling rides of 15, 30, 100 and 150 miles. The 15- and 30-mile ride will start at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, with both the start and finish line at Hospitality Point. The route for the 15- and 30-mile ride is a leisurely ride mostly on bike paths along the shores of Mission Bay.

Registration is still open, and information is available at www.biketofinishMS.com.