Over the past 10 years, the Coca-Cola Cycling Club has raised more than $930,000 for multiple sclerosis (MS), an auto-immune disease that affects the central nervous system. In 2004, Mark Neville, group director of finance and 24-year Coca-Cola veteran, reignited the dormant club after he was diagnosed with MS.

“When I got diagnosed, I decided I was going to do something,” he said.

His first step was participating in the annual Bike MS Ride held by the Georgia Chapter of the National MS Society. When Neville called to register, he was surprised to find out that Coca-Cola didn’t have a team in the event. “Can you just put me on the Coke team?” he recalled asking. “And they said, ‘Well, we don’t have one.’ So I said, ‘Well, you do now.’” 

Cycling Club
The team poses proudly in their Coca-Cola cycling gear.

Bike MS, a two-day, 125-mile ride, was Neville’s first in six years. With just six weeks until the event, he started training and recruiting friends and co-workers. The team grew to 32 cyclists that year and hasn't looked back since.

“We ought to try to keep this thing going so we have another team next year that’s even bigger,” he thought at the time.

Neville started to formalize the club and, in just a few years, formed a nonprofit organization called MS Cycling Inc. He created a website and tapped an email marketing service to maintain team communications.

Utilizing the exclusive Coca-Cola Cycling jersey as a valuable recruiting tool, the club grew to more than 180 riders and raised $110,000 in a single year.

Coca-Cola Company Club
Mark Neville (R) and Walt Haber (L) pose in their Coca-Cola Cycling jerseys at the 2013 Bike MS event.

Bike MS is just as much of a social event as a charitable cause. It takes place over a weekend in Callaway Gardens, Ga., by Robin Lake Beach. With a team tent filled with Coca-Cola beverages, snacks and a festive atmosphere, the Cycling Club members always enjoy themselves.

Callaway Gardens cultivates a family-friendly atmosphere for the weekend and offers ride options that vary from more than 100 miles to a 30-mile ride to a family ride designed for children.

Although many leaders in the club are serious cyclists, membership is open to all skill levels. “Most of the people in the early years were people who didn’t even ride regularly,” Neville said. He recalled a friend who had to borrow a bike from him that first year. The same friend, who had never seriously cycled before, was so inspired by the experience that he still cycles and runs for charity.

Coca-Cola Company Cycling Club
A Coca-Cola team member surrounded by his proud family after finishing the ride.

Neville cited the structure of the Cycling Club as an asset for many new members. By providing a clear objective and timeline for training, along with a built-in support group, the Cycling Club has inspired countless Coke employees to lead more active lifestyles. On top of that, the social aspect of the club is invaluable. “A lot of the fun is just out there having conversations and you ride up to someone else and you get to know them,” Neville added.

As he planned the club’s first Savannah MS ride, Neville recruited a valuable ally. Celeste Burr, a senior real estate specialist at Coca-Cola, joined the club for that ride and eventually took over as team captain two years ago. Neville soon stepped away from the club, passing it on after 10 years at the helm. Burr, who is active in the Atlanta cycling community, was a natural for the position.

Coca-Cola Cycling Club
Celeste Burr and her sister getting ready for the ride to start on day one of the Bike MS.

“I love things you do to help others while you’re helping yourself,” she said.

Driving participation has been Burr's greatest challenge. Over the past couple of years, the club’s participation rate in Bike MS has declined, and she worries that members who were inspired to ride by friends with MS stopped riding when their friends did. “What they don’t realize is these people continue to battle MS,” she said.

Burr, a former triathlete who embraced cycling as her knees wore down, is committed to reaching the club’s goal of $1 million in member fundraising for MS this year. To achieve that, she estimates  Coca-Cola will need at least 70 riders for the September event. Interested in joining the Cycling Club or riding with the team this September? Email Burr at cehutchingsburr@coca-cola.com.