Chattanooga native Grace Ragland of Huntsville, Ala., has overcome multiple sclerosis to become a champion mountain bike racer. She will participate in the 3-State/3-Mountain bike ride in Chattanooga on Saturday. Contributed Photo
More than 1,500 bicyclists will depart Finley Stadium on Saturday morning at 8 for the 3-State/3-Mountain challenge, with 100 miles of pavement and climbs up Lookout, Suck Creek and Sand mountains standing between them and their return to downtown Chattanooga.
It’s a grueling task for many, but for cyclist Grace Ragland, overcoming obstacles is just a part of her everyday life.
Ragland, a native of Chattanooga who now lives in Huntsville, Ala., has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis since 1980, yet she’s gone on to successfully compete in mountain bike races across the country.
She has won state championships in Tennessee and Alabama in the over-30 division and has won the Bump and Grind mountian bike race in Pelham, Ala.
For Ragland, working through the challenges of her condition has been difficult but she says maintaining a positive attitude and active lifestyle has been key to her treatment plan.
“I don’t dwell on it,” she said Wednesday. “I just go on about my life and challenge my MS to catch me, and it can’t because I’m too fast and too active.”
A daily injection and a strict diet helps Ragland control many of the symptoms, but she still struggles with various challenges, including numbness in her legs, headaches and difficulty maintaining her balance at times.
While difficulty with balance and riding a bicycle don’t seem to be compatible, Ragland says learning how to cope with the problem taught her lessons about how to live both on and off the bike.
“It was a challenge for me because I was always falling of my bike — until I finally figured out that momentum is your friend,” she said. “When I go a little bit faster I don’t fall as much. In turn, I have applied that to my [battle with] multiple sclerosis. I just pick up my steps and have a little bit of momentum to get through any obstacle.”
Saturday’s 3-State/3-Mountain Challenge will be the 24th time the ride has been held. The 100-mile route over three mountains guides riders through Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. There are also 62- and 25-mile options.
Chattanooga Bicycle Club organizers decided to go forward with the ride despite the damage caused by last week’s severe weather.
“The 3-State is not only a benefit to the Bike Club, but also to numerous community organizations in the region,” Chattanooga Bicycle Coordinator Philip Pugliese said in a release Wednesday. “Among the beneficiaries are volunteer fire departments, emergency management agencies and food banks that have been serving storm victims.”
In addition to normal fundraising efforts associated with the event, the Chattanooga Bicycle Club also will be accepting donations for storm victims at Friday’s pre-ride expo at Finley Stadium.
Ragland, who is a member of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club and brother of club board member Andy Jones, has completed the 62-mile route and she will be attempting the 100-mile route Saturday.
“This is a training ride for me for my main goal this year,” she said. “In August, I’ll be competing in the Leadville 100 [mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo.]. So this is a substantial training ride for me.
“I’m so excited to get to do this event back home and see a lot of people I’ve known for years, plus knowing the bike community. It’s going to be a beautiful day, too.”
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...