Fifty miles: it’s the approximate distance from Charleston to Edisto, from Orangeburg to Columbia. And it’s the exact distance that Honey and Mike Burrell journey through the Lowcountry, by foot, to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society each year.
Since 2006, these Summerville retirees—Honey, a school teacher-turned potter, and Mike, a former principal—have taken part in the Challenge Walk MS, held by chapters of the nonprofit around the nation. Not only must participants traverse 50 miles in three days, but they’re also required to raise at least $1,500 each. “It’s a huge challenge for anybody, but those who have MS face hardships every day of their lives,” says Honey.
The 61-year-old got involved after hearing a radio ad that asked, “Would you be willing to take the challenge?” She recalls, “I didn’t know if I was up for it—I couldn’t even walk a half mile then without getting worn out.” Yet she felt she needed closure after losing her best friend, Susan, to complications with MS and watching Mike’s stepmother struggle with it as well. She signed up to walk in their memory, wrangling Mike to volunteer.
That first year—after hearing the stories of the MS supporters and sufferers with whom she fell into step along the route and joining in the emotional evening candlelight service—Honey realized she’d have to do the walk again in 2007. “It changed my life that much,” she says. And this time, Mike signed up as well.
To date, the pair has raised more than $40,000 for the cause, but they’re also raising awareness, putting faces to an oft-ignored disease. “Last year, I was waiting on the side of the road while the Ben Sawyer Bridge opened to let a boat through,” notes Honey. “A man sitting in his car asked why I was walking. I said, ‘I’m walking for MS.’ He just stared at me, and that’s when I looked down and saw the cane in his car. He said, ‘I have MS.’ And I responded, ‘Well, I’m walking for you.’”
This March 1-3, Honey and Mike will be hiking through downtown, Mount Pleasant, and the islands for the 45 people in Summerville’s MS Support Group. Their niece has signed up to trek with them, and their adult daughters are volunteering. “When you cross the finish line each day, oh my gosh, everybody cries tears of joy. I feel like I’ve really made a difference,” says Honey. “But the truth is, you get more out of it than you’ll ever give.”
Cheer Them On: The Challenge Walk MS: Charleston Challenge hits the road from March 1-3, with participants hiking from downtown Charleston to Sullivan’s Island on day one, through Mount Pleasant on day two, and around Isle of Palms on day three. Learn more at www.challengenct.nationalmssociety.org.