The shadow of the hill grew at a menacing rate, boldly protruding upwards, piercing the earth, swallowing the midday sun.
Each pedal stroke propelled her closer to the beast.
Saline trickled down her cheeks. Tears? Sweat? She’d lost track at this point.
One thought. Lunch was on the other side of that hill, just make it there.
But doubt anchored her at the base, what if I really can’t? why was this the only way?
… “you are stronger than what you know..,” “you are stronger than what you know!”
Her trainer’s voice echoed and grew with each re-centering breath, “I can,” she muttered. After all, this wasn’t the first obstacle life had thrown her.
Lynne Kaska made it to the top of that hill and to lunch that sweltering day mid-May, 2016. She made it through many more agonizing miles on the bike while battling so much more than most. But it is not Kaska’s physical journey that offers the greatest insight. Instead, it’s her tenacity.
Her journey of perseverance and determination began against the first of many curve balls, on one fateful day in 2001.
The diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis, (MS).
A chronic disease, currently without cure, MS erodes the immune system and the protective sheath covering the nerves, disrupting communication between the brain and body.
The medical diagnosis confirmed a hunch Kaska had feared true for the past two years, as simple tasks, such as walking up the stairs, became daily difficulties. The diagnosis worked like plaster, setting long time fears and challenges in stone. Insurmountable uncertainty left Kaska feeling cheated and anchored firmly at the bottom of life’s hill.
MS affects approximately 400,000 people in the US, yet the disease bears many faces and isolation becomes perhaps one of the most detrimental symptoms of diagnosis. Confusion from outsiders attempting to empathize, coupled with the fact there is no cure, creates a sense of helplessness and isolation.
“The more it worsen[ed], the more [I drove my] friends and family away,” Kaska said.
Shocked by his own MS diagnosis in January 2010, local Dallas problem solver Jim Casey decided mulling in the shadow of fear wasn’t for him.
His only question — How can I fight back?
Designing an “F-U-MS” jersey and completing the 2010 MS 150 ride, cycling transported Casey out of the isolation MS imposed. Each pedal stroke became a fluid motion creating a momentum and process. With process came bite-sized, achievable goals that lead to incredible clarity.
Casey felt good cycling. Like he held the power. He realized in starting his hill climb, appreciating any form of upward projection, he’d already won a battle many go their whole lives trying to achieve. He’d overcome the fear of failure simply because he’d removed the pressure of reaching life’s highest summit first. His mountain tops were now exactly that — his. Personalized goals helped Casey find gratitude, happiness and the will to keep fighting.
Knowing he couldn’t get a win every day but enjoying a renewed mindset that allowed him to appreciate the small victories, Casey set out to find more MS patients who were ready to switch gears.
With the help and support of his brisket loving, food critic sister, Alice Laussade, the “Meat Fight” BBQ fundraising challenge was born in 2010, and so too was the “Meat-Bike” team of 200 cyclists riding with MS. Upon joining, each athlete’s bike and kit are covered by the more than $1.5 million raised by “Meat-Fight.” Their only obligation? A commitment to living fully and fighting hard.
Sick of feeling lost at the bottom of the hill, Kaska found a trainer and began cycling.
“She literally dragged me kicking and screaming to the spin class,” Kaska chuckled. “But I loved it.”
Kaska noticed exciting changes in her body: her symptoms decreased, she lost weight, she even began finding hills “liberating.” But it was newfound gratitude that set her free.
“There is always something even in the worst of situations to be grateful for,” Kaska said. “So I would look for the next [challenge]. Keep[ing] an attitude of gratitude, I … [felt] more empowered.”
The bike provided freedom, but MS fought back and soon riding wasn’t an option. The finish line had seemingly moved, turning Kaska’s newfound optimism back into a daily slog of mixed emotions, plagued by a feeling of failure.
Out of breath and out of options, the only way for Kaska to successfully traverse the ever steepening hill was with a team. Applying for a specialized trike via Casey’s “Meat Fight Endurance labs program,” Kaska was back out “crushing miles,” regaining her confidence and connecting with others battling MS.
The team has been instrumental in removing the anomaly tagged to MS, and gifting Kaska a greater purpose. “Not only do they cheer me on,” she smiled. “But I get to cheer them on! For me, true empowerment comes from the support I get to give other[s].”
Encouragement is a core Meat Fight value ensuring everyone reaches personal milestones. Meat-Biker, David Pinilla can affirm this, hitting a roundabout and toppling off his bike at mile 148 of the 150-mile annual bike-MS race. Sustaining no serious injuries other than to his reputation, which he is loath to admit, he testifies Meat Fight support as “key,” to enabling his finish.
Likewise, nothing makes Kaska’s sweltering summer rides more enjoyable than a fierce peloton chanting, “go meat fight, go meat fight!” as they whizz past. “It gets you through,” she said.
Casey has completed six IRONMAN races since his diagnosis, but it’s the smile of accomplishment on a newcomer’s face when they realize they can that keeps him hungry for more.
“Everybody’s got something they’ve got to overcome,” Casey said. “It’s not about what happens to you that defines your life, it’s what you do about it.”
As Kaska pushed into the lunch stop she paused to look back down the beast, brimming with gratitude as tears streamed down her face.
She’d done it.
The hill was her’s — her struggle, her strength, and her stamp of human resilience. She saw it as a reflection of her MS journey. It would always be there, but with support, it could be conquered.
Smiling, knowing her teammates would hold her accountable for that fighting spirit, she looked ahead she bit into her sandwich,
“Where is my next hill?”