Riding to Raise Awareness

Thursday, June 4, 2015
Some of the riders who passed through Piggott Monday on the Tour de Tourette are shown resuming their journey following a lunch break at Donna's Country Kitchen.(TD photo/Tim Blair)

On Monday, June 15, hundreds of bicyclists will be passing through Piggott as part of the annual "Ride the Fault Line" tour. This past Monday, June 1, a group of just a half-dozen cyclists pedaled through the city as they navigated the same route to be traveled in the coming event, but with a different goal. This group was making the trip to help increase awareness of, and raise funds, for the fight against Tourette's Syndrome.

Five of the cyclists, including group spokesman Bill Staley, are from Omaha while the sixth flew in from New Jersey to be a part of the effort.

Staley, who has battled Tourette since his teenage years, noted the group was riding under the banner of the Tour de Tourette, sponsored by the Tourette Association of America. The ride also coincides with Tourette Awareness Month, which this year is being observed from May 15 to June 15.

For Staley, and the others, rides such as this are common. "One of the other riders, Frank, and me rode across the United States from Bellingham, Wash. to New York in 2012 to raise awareness for the Tourette Association and raised several thousand dollars," Staley explains. "It was great to raise awareness all the way across the country and the whole TSA-USA staff greeted us there in New York City and that was very gratifying."

He noted since then the group, which had been riding together for dozens of years previously, began to participate in rides to promote the fight against Tourette. "We've been riding together for 10 to 15 years, and do 500 mile rides every summer," he noted. "And, now the association has been gracious enough to put the banners on our trailers and allow us to raise awareness every trip we take."

Staley also noted three of the riders took part in a ride last year from Mobile, Ala. to Lake Erie then did several 500 mile rides. "We did trails in Missouri, the Rocky Mountains and several places around the central U.S. to help support the cause and raise awareness," he added. "Now they've allowed us to use the banners and people come up and talk to us about it."

And, for Staley the issue is one which hits very close to home, as he has dealt with the malady for decades.

"I've had Tourette's since I was a teenager, so it was kind of near and dear to my heart," he explained. "And, after the ride from Mobile Frank told me he was glad we chose a cause--and I'm glad it was Tourette's. Because a lot of people would come up and talk to us, it was very gratifying."

Staley noted the rides drew the attention of the media, and also those wanting to know more about the disorder. "A lot of people had questions, parents who had a child with Tourette's wanted to know what to expect and such, or a teacher who suspects a student may have it," he added. "And, since I've had it for years they kind of use me as a role model. You can survive with it and a lot of people misunderstand it and the fact you can't help it--often the problem is not the Tourette's but how people react to it."

To this end, Staley continues to use the rides to educate the public and diminish the stigma.

"I remember running into a 13 year old girl in South Dakota, and I told her, hey, if my twitches make you uncomfortable then you should know I have Tourette's and please ask me about it," he explains. "Just get it out there in the open and talk about it."

Now retired, Staley noted for years he never broached the subject in his professional life. "I never talked about it for years until I became a college professor although I was a lawyer and a judge before that," he added. "I could argue before the state supreme court and as soon as I started talking it went away. But, when you're up in front of a classroom you can't hide it--so I just used it as a learning tool and explained to them how I thought I got it, based on my research."

He indicated the chance to educate the public, and support the TSA-USA, provides the motivation for him and the other riders to continue the trips.

This particular trip began in Sikeston, and by way of Dexter, Malden and Campbell proceeded to Piggott. The riders then made their way west to McDougal, south to Crowley's Ridge State Park and then back east into the Bootheel. The route also includes a short jaunt through eastern Tennessee, before the riders will return to Sikeston. For Staley, and the other riders, their experience has been a great one so far.

"We find a lot of friendly people along the way on our trips, but these have been about the friendliest people we've ever run across," he noted. "I stopped at a store to get a knee brace, because I twisted my knee yesterday, and those folks did everything but adopt us--they were just super."

Following a lunch break at Donna's Country Kitchen, the riders continued on their way with hopes of educating more people about Tourette's.

"They call it a disorder, but I'm not sure how much of a disorder it actually is--some cases are worse than others," Staley surmises. "But, people are stereotyped because of it, because of the nervous twitches--although they're not really nervousness. I always call it the first cousin of epilepsy, and I would hope in my lifetime there would be a cure. Thankfully, there are some inroads being made now, which are very, very hopeful on Tourette, epilepsy and autism and they're all related."

Those wanting additional information may visit www.tsa-usa.org

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