A mountain bike enthusiast from the Borders has chosen hills over pills to combat a devastating diagnosis.
And Andy McKenna has launched a special raffle to help raise funds for the charity which helped him forge his own path to better health.
In 2007, the otherwise healthy businessman was hospitalised; a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage was first suspected but he was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As his health gradually deteriorated, he was advised to take medication to help alleviate the symptoms.
But Andy researched the condition himself and found Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS), a charity which advocates diet and lifestyle changes to prevent the condition’s progression.
It struck a chord and he opted to forego the pills in favour of the OMS regime.
And it has worked for while Andy still has symptoms, he remains relatively fit and healthy.
He said: “The doctors thought I would be in a wheelchair by now but, thankfully, the MS has not progressed that quickly.
“My primary tactic is to cope from behind the handlebars of my bike. It helps me to escape, cope and keeps me sane.
“If a pill worked, I’d be at the front of the queue. But I could find no evidence the pills or injections worked.
“During my research, though, I discovered OMS and what it advocated made far more sense to me.
“I manage my MS via its guidance on diet, exercise and stress management.
“I also use a medical cannabis throat spray, Sativex, and CBD oil to help with pain relief and to reduce the tremors.”
Prior to diagnosis, Andy (48) was a mountain bike tour guide running his own business, Go-Where, with his wife Aneela (44) from their Clovenfords home.
While his health prevents him from being a guide, the couple continue to run the successful business.
They’ve also committed to raising funds for OMS as a thank you for its support.
Filmmaker Andy McCandlish worked with Andy to share his journey by bike through Scotland.
The film, This Way Up, launched their Stoked on MS fundraising mission.
Shortlisted by Vancouver and Kendal International Mountain Film Festivals, it is now on a worldwide charity screening tour. To date it has helped Stoked on MS raise more than £21,000 for OMS.
But Andy is stepping the fundraising up a gear with the raffle launch.
He said: “When you’re given a catastrophic diagnosis, it should not be up to you to root around for all the options.
“You should be given them all so you can work out your own plan of attack.
“I want as many people as possible to know about the amazing work OMS is doing – not just the hope it gives but the quality of life too.
“That’s why we launched Stoked on MS. I’m not stoked to have MS but I want to raise awareness and support for this unsung charity.”
As a result of their business, the McKennas work with some of the best bike companies in the world.
Among their number is Californian firm, Santa Cruz. And it has built a bespoke Bronson mountain bike for Andy to raffle off on his Stoked on MS website.
Components were also donated by Fox, Shimano, Wilderness Trail, EVOC and Endura, bringing the prize value to more than £20,000 – the same amount Andy hopes the raffle will raise.
He said: “All of the firms we work with have chipped in to create this one-of-a-kind mountain bike.
“We’re running an international raffle, with tickets priced at £10 each.
“The raffle opened on Valentine’s Day and closes in two months’ time, when we hope to have raised £20,000 for OMS. All proceeds will be going to the charity.
“I’d like to thank all of the firms who helped create the bike. It’s incredible and will be a conversational piece and talking point, I’m sure!”
In the meantime, Andy still rides at least three times a week and has no plans to give up the sport he loves.
He added: “My legs might get a bit wobbly these days so I look a bit drunk at times!
“But I love the freedom the bike gives me.”
Andy also met with the Scottish Government’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, at the end of last year.
As a result, he is hopeful NHS Scotland will use his film as a workshop tool for people diagnosed with MS.
If you would like to enter the raffle, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stokedonmsbronsonraffle.
Andy’s mission to raise awareness
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the body’s central nervous system.
It is believed that more than 2.5 million people worldwide have the condition, which causes the body’s immune system to attack myelin.
When myelin is damaged or destroyed it affects the nerve impulses travelling to and from the brain and spinal cord.
This can cause life-changing symptoms such as extreme fatigue, numbness, tingling, tremors, slurred speech, loss of balance, muscle co-ordination and vision and, in the worst cases, paralysis.
The diagnosis usually comes in the prime of someone’s life, typically between the ages of 20 and 40. It can be a devastating condition but while there is currently no cure, there is hope for a healthier future.
And it’s for that reason that Andy has shared his story with such a wide audience.
He first became ill in 2007 but it took months for the diagnosis to be confirmed and even longer for Andy to accept it.
However, he’s since been on a journey to find out all he can about the condition and raise awareness of OMS, the charity which gave him his life back.
Andy also does all he can to educate people locally too.
He recalled: “Due to the MS, I can fall pretty easily. One day heading into Home Bargains in Gala, I almost fell and a group of pupils started laughing.
“If I’d been their age, I probably would have too.
“But one of them made a snide comment so I went over and explained why it had happened.
“I look a wee bit feral at the best of times so I think they got a fright. But I just wanted them to understand that you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Andy will be sharing This Way Up on his website to raise even more awareness. Visit www.stokedonms.org.uk.