Race Across America: Giving Michelle a finish line

A competitive cyclist, Kamloops resident Ian Fillinger is familiar with it all. Each intake of breath that sear the lungs. The dripping sweat. The constant pumping of the pedals despite gravity making your legs feel as heavy as lead. The mental battle.

“You need someone to support you and be able to look after your nutrition, your clothing needs, making sure you’re safe,” said Ian of the challenges that come with his sport. “Over the last three years, my support person who hasn’t missed a single race, day or night, whether it’s two in the morning or three in the afternoon, has been my wife Michelle.”


On June 9, Ian will compete as a solo racer for Race Across America (RAAM). Dubbed as the world’s toughest sporting event by Outside Magazine, Race Across America is a non-stop, transcontinental bike race that encompasses over 4,800 kilometres from California to Maryland.

He trains for two hours on weekdays and up to 10 hours on weekends. All of this on top of working at Interfor and serving as a board member for Kamloops MS Society.

This is the greatest challenge Ian’s ever embarked on and having Michelle there is his greatest motivation.

You see, Michelle is also competing in an endurance race of a different form. It’s called multiple sclerosis. Ever since she was diagnosed with it eight years ago, Michelle has been battling numbness, blurred vision, fatigue and other physical symptoms that make living a challenge. She, and other people living with MS, didn’t sign up for this but she bravely battles it daily.

The idea of using the RAAM race as a platform for MS came to Ian during a particularly tough ultra-cycling race day.

“It was in the middle of the night on the second race when (I started to feel) what my wife Michelle was telling me she feels on a daily basis.”

“My hand started to go numb, I couldn’t feel my fingers to shift my gears . . . and my feet were starting to go numb,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man, this is what people with MS have to live with everyday, and I just got a taste of it in this race.’” For the first time, he understood what it must be like to live with MS. Then he thought, why not use his passion for cycling to help find a cure for this debilitating disease?

“What he’s doing is offering inspiration to others and hope,” said Kamloops MS Society’s manager Trina Radford. “He’s doing it out of love for his wife, out of passion for the sport that he’s involved in, and for everyone affected by MS.”

As a qualifier, Ian will be the first British Columbian to compete and could be the seventh Canadian to ride across the finish line. But his real reward is in finding a cure and raising awareness.

“Often people don’t want to talk about it because of the eventual outcome that many people see: wheelchairs, canes or what-have-you,” said Ian. “The more we can get people talking about this, the more understanding and acceptance there’ll be.”

“The difference between this disease and something like cancer is . . . there always seems to be a level of hope; in MS, that hope gets taken away. The way I look at it, nobody deserves to get their hope taken away.”

Finishing the RAAM is much more than a race. It is Ian’s attempt to give Michelle, and other MS sufferers, a finish line.

The Kamloops MS Society is doing a film showing fundraiser and premiere on Feb. 28 at the TRU Grand Hall. Winning seven film festival awards, the documentary entitled Bicycle Dreams shows the story behind Race Across America. There will be two screenings: one at 3 p.m. and another at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and costs $10 per person. Proceeds will go to the Kamloops MS Society.

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