Meet our 2023 Inspiration Award winners
Each year, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society recognizes individuals who are champions of the MS movement through our Inspiration Awards.
These individuals go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of all those affected by MS. While each of our winners comes from a different background, they all embody the Society’s mission and vision.
We are so fortunate that all of these individuals are part of our movement, and we are grateful for all they do to help people with MS live their best lives.
Mike Blatt’s journey with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society started when he completed the 1983 Bike MS: MS 150 inaugural ride in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite having no personal connection to MS, Mike was inspired to help grow the event and support the Society’s mission, so he began volunteering.
“Over 40 years, I have seen the Society change tremendously,” Mike says. “It’s grown in the research, the drugs, all that. But still, the core value is we’re here to help people living with MS.”
Now living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Mike is a fixture in the Society’s Mid-South Florida Chapter. He volunteers at every event, always the first to arrive and the last to leave. At the 2022 Bike MS: Cycle to the Shore, Mike moved to the back of the pack to join a rookie rider who lives with MS. Mike pulled alongside the rider and told him, “It is you and me all the way.” Side-by-side, the two completed the 35-mile route together. In 2023, the two gave an encore performance.
“It takes blood, sweat and tears to make these events happen,” Mike says. “I’ll continue to get out there and help. If I can make this small contribution to making those events happen, I am more than happy to do it.”
Working as a physical therapist and certified multiple sclerosis specialist for more than 30 years can be demanding, but Patty Bobryk is up for the challenge.
“Every time I can make a change with each individual patient I see, that is what keeps me going,” Patty says. “I always feel there is something we can do in rehabilitation, no matter where you are in the trajectory of the disease.”
Patty led the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s National Medical Advisory Committee in the creation of the Society’s rehabilitation guide released in 2023. The guide not only explains how rehabilitation can improve and maintain function for a person living with MS, but it also outlines what people with MS can expect during a rehab evaluation and ways to overcome barriers to rehabilitation.
“I feel like I am the one that’s constantly being inspired by everyone from the Society, my patients and from everybody working in MS,” Patty says. “Every day, I am awestruck by the resiliency in moving forward in the face of uncertainty.”
On December 16, 2021, Derrek Booze lost his voice. That was the day he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He eventually regained his voice, and he credits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“I want to repay them as much as I can, and I know I can’t,” Derrek says. “They mean everything to make me the person I am today and hopefully the person I’ll be tomorrow.”
To show his appreciation, Derrek did something special at 2023 Walk MS: Springfield, Missouri. Amid the cheering crowd and loud music, Derrek was the last person to cross the finish line after the 3-mile walk. Once he did, he opened his jacket to reveal his “I Walk For…” sticker. Written on the sticker was the “MS Society.”
Because of all the experiences and connections he has made, Derrek credits the Society with making him “the wealthiest person in the world.” He volunteers at any Society event he can, anticipating that he might need help in the future. He hopes his efforts give people a greater understanding of the different ways MS affects people living with the disease.
“I know that I’m going to continue to go as long as I can and give it everything I can because there is somebody watching me,” Derrek says. “That somebody watching me is going to say, ‘Derrek did it, and I can, too.’ ”
Sonya Bryson-Kirksey’s grandfather once told her, “The only thing we have is our name.” Since then, Sonya has wanted her name to be associated with helping people.
“I think I push forward because of my family,” Sonya says. “I want them to see that just because I have a debilitating disease at times, I still want to push forward to make a difference for other people who have my disease, those who are having a harder time in life than me.”
Sonya was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2015, just before retiring from the Air Force. She is now in her 10th year as the national anthem singer for the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2022, Sonya became the first Black woman and veteran to serve on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Mid-South Florida Board of Trustees. That same year, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored Sonya as a Lightning Community Hero, awarding her $100,000 to donate to her favorite charity. She donated half to the Society and the other half to Support the Troops.
When asked about the impact she has made on the MS movement, Sonya says, “It means that some little girl, when she gets in her 20s, might be diagnosed with MS. She’ll remember Mrs. Sonya, who used to sing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, had MS, too, and she lived her life.”
Scott Crawford, PhD
Since Scott Crawford, PhD, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002, the former neuropsychologist has been on the front lines in the fight for accessible air and ground transportation at the federal, state and local levels.
“We’re all tasked with making the world a better place,” Scott says. “That means different things to different people. Serving means finding where your great passion intersects with society’s great need. Being somebody living with MS, knowing the impact of this disease and what it did to me, what it did to my family and what it’s doing to other young people, that became one of the top priorities in my life.”
Each year, Scott leads a group of individuals affected by MS to the Mississippi State Capitol for Statewide Advocacy Day to make their voices heard. In March of 2023, he served as a panelist on air travel accessibility during the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Public Policy Conference, where he detailed the difficulties people with MS can face during air travel. Scott also works tirelessly to make his local community of Jackson, Miss., more accessible for individuals who use mobility devices.
“As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Scott says. “If I can be one of the people, just one of them speaking for justice and moving the needle ever so slightly during my time here, that would be good enough. And then, I’ll pass the baton onto the next generation.”
As an artist who paints faces, it is only fitting that Lydia Emily keeps moving forward in the face of multiple sclerosis. Despite losing sight in her left eye and needing to tie paintbrushes to her hands due to muscle fatigue, Lydia can still turn a blank canvas into a beautiful face.
“Multiple sclerosis has made it challenging at best, but not impossible because nothing is impossible,” Lydia says.
As an MS activist, she uses her art to bring a voice to the MS movement. “Art should do more than hang, it should bring hope,” Lydia says. “It should help.” Lydia shares her story at National Multiple Sclerosis Society conferences, fundraising events and awareness campaigns. She will be the subject of a documentary titled “The Art of the Rebellion.” This documentary shines a light on the struggles of managing a chronic illness and the high costs of MS treatment and care.
“I don’t paint because I want to,” Lydia says. “I paint because I have to, and that is the difference. MS won’t take that from me. It may have taken my sight, my hands and my legs, but it can’t have that.”
When Dirk Gifford got the opportunity to join the Greater DC-Maryland Chapter’s Board of Trustees through his employer, KPMG, he jumped at the chance.
Reflecting on KPMG’s efforts towards diversity and inclusion, Dirk shares: “This was really important to me to serve on the board, to strengthen our firm’s partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. That includes helping people live their best lives so they can perform their best.”
While Dirk has no personal connection to MS, he has a passion for health equity and improving the lives of others. In 2022 and 2023, he secured KPMG as the first-ever presenting sponsor for Bike MS: Nation’s Capital and has led the effort to recruit KPMG Walk MS teams across the Greater DC-Maryland market. Dirk’s desire to never deprive people of hope motivates him to keep volunteering and raising awareness of the Society’s mission.
“Cure is inevitable,” Dirk says. “Until then, it’s a matter of figuring out, planning, thinking about and grouping together to understand what best paths are available to live well.”
Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, and Scott Newsome, DO
Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, and Scott Newsome, DO, are thankful for the opportunities the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has given them to make an impact. Both Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellows (Jennifer in 2011 and Scott in 2008) are committed to training the next generation of MS specialists, serving as co-chairs of the Society’s MS Fellows Complex Case Webinar for the past three years.
“Training the next generation is one of my passions,” Scott says. “The more people we can bring into the scope of neuroimmunology in training MS specialists, the closer we’ll get to a cure, and short of a cure, closer to better treatments. That motivates me every time I wake up in the morning. I think about not just my mom [who lived with multiple sclerosis] but other people with MS and say, ‘OK, how can we do better for them?’ ”
Scott serves as director of both the Stiff Person Syndrome Center and the Neuroimmunology and Neurological Infectious Disease Fellowship at Johns Hopkins. He is also an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins. Jennifer is an associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego and is the director of the UCSD Neuroimmunology Research Program.
“The journey that a person living with MS takes, the bravery they have facing their disease and continuing to reach for own personal milestones in life — that is my No. 1 inspiration,” Jennifer says. “The No. 2: the amazing people I get to work with and get to train in this amazing field.”
When Tom McFarland retired in 2014, he wanted to do something meaningful with his time. An avid photographer, he reached out to VolunteerMatch who then put him in touch with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. After photographing one day of Bike MS: Colorado in 2015, Tom was hooked.
“It started out as a way to spend time in retirement,” Tom says. “But when you see the smiles on people’s faces and they recognize you year after year, that’s reinforcing. I just kind of pick up the joy that they have. The energy they give you makes it hard not to smile.”
Since he started volunteering, Tom has photographed all Bike MS, Walk MS and Hike MS events in the Colorado-Wyoming market, even branching into neighboring states. Not having MS himself, he uses his camera to capture the emotions of the people who are part of the MS movement.
“Helping even in the tiniest way to find a cure and end a disease in our lifetime reinforces and validates my view of life that things change on this planet by people who work together, address a problem, raise the money and fund the research,” Tom says. “To put one really nasty disease into the trash bin would be historic.”
Jason and Jack Hank
After his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2013, Jason Hank wanted his son Jack to participate in Bike MS: Escape to the Lake with him before he could no longer ride, and Jack would have to ride for him. Jason got his wish in June of 2023 when Jack was old enough to ride alongside him. And at 12 years old, Jack raised more than $12,000.
“Whether it’s MS or any disease that people are looking to find a cure for, do anything,” Jack says. “Do anything to help people whether it’s riding bikes like we do or the simplest thing like a fundraiser for something that can cure any disease, whether it is MS or cancer.”
The two have had the opportunity to share their MS journey with local television stations in Pittsburgh and the Society’s Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter’s Board of Trustees. Jason has a photo of him kissing Jack after crossing the finish line at his first Escape to the Lake in 2014 when Jack was 3 years old. Jason now has a photo of the two crossing the finish line together, and he hopes it is the first of many times they get to do that.
“I think we have a good story,” Jason says. “This father-and-son team that wants to do something about it [a cure for MS], and I know that resonates with people. What’s nice is that I know that I can use that story to help inspire people to give and not feel selfish about it. I’m not asking them to give me something. I want you to see my story and be inspired to help others.”
Helen Myers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004 and began volunteering with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society shortly after that. In 2007, she formed the Walk MS: Midland team DOW while working for the DOW Chemical Co. After retiring, the team was renamed Stomp Out MS so people not affiliated with DOW would feel welcome to join. Through Helen’s dedication and commitment, Stomp Out MS has raised more than $500,000 to advance the Society’s mission.
Helen sees the Society as a “light in the darkness.”
“I’m just trying to carry the message,” Helen says. “I feel like I have been such a fortunate beneficiary of the Society being there when I needed it, and I needed it multiple times. My No. 1 activity is doing all sorts of events and activities with the Society.”
Helen is chair of the Michigan Chapter’s Board of Trustees. Whether it is talking to legislators at the Michigan State Capitol, potential donors or volunteers, Helen leverages her personal connection to MS to educate others about the disease and get them involved in the movement.
“I’m always looking for what else I can do,” Helen says. “We’re not done. I like finishing things, and we’re not finished with MS, so we’ve gotta keep going.”
Monica Proctor Wilson
A few years after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2007, Monica Proctor Wilson made a promise: When she could get out of bed, she would create a group so no one would feel the same pain she did after her diagnosis. Now, more than 16 years later, Monica gives people affected by MS the opportunity to connect through several support groups she leads.
“Once someone feels they are heard, it just makes a difference,” Monica says. “It impacts them. It impacts me. Everybody is important and to make somebody understand they are important. It is important for me to do that.”
In 2016, she founded SPEAK MS. Meeting virtually every Monday, group participants share their personal experiences with MS while feeling empowered by others in the group. Knowing MS affects others besides those diagnosed with the disease, Monica founded a family and friends awareness group in 2021. In 2022, she learned of a 16-year-old boy who was newly diagnosed with MS and recently placed in a youth detention center. She and other members of SPEAK MS convinced him to join the group, and he would frequently attend meetings via Zoom. Monica and other group members would also visit the young man in person.
“I hope I inspire people to understand that there is a cure coming,” Monica says. “Just hold on. Keep the faith. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Bruce Reid and Linda Bushong-Reid
When Bruce Reid and his wife, Linda Bushong-Reid, first got involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2000, they didn’t think they had any close connections to multiple sclerosis. The more they’ve gotten involved, the more people they discover live with MS, including Linda’s half-brother. Now, they’re always thinking of ways to fundraise for the Society.
“I find it gets the community involved and aware of MS and what is needed,” Linda says. “It’s just amazing how many people will tell us their stories, and [ask] what can they do to help. I really enjoy it when people say a difference has been made in their lives.”
“It’s evolved into a passion,” Bruce says. “We look at it as a full-time job, which is a good thing.”
Bruce and Linda’s fundraising efforts range from baking desserts to wrapping gifts during the holidays. They have raised more than $400,000 for the Society, but their efforts do not stop there. Bruce has participated in Bike MS in all 50 states and is team captain for Big Bananas, a 2019 Circle of Distinction inductee for raising $1 million or more.
“I constantly come across people with MS who tell me I’m their hero,” Bruce says. “They’ve got it backward. They’re my heroes. I’m doing this for them. The amount of incredible people that I have met over the last 23 years has been fantastic. They keep me motivated.”