I don’t even remember learning how to ride a bike. I do remember, however, riding around the quiet and quaint neighborhood streets in New Mexico as a young child, waving to neighbors and knocking on friends’ doors to ask them to come out and play – any by “play,” I mean pretending we were CHiPs, and specifically, the motorcycle police officers Jon and Ponch of the California Highway Patrol. And if my partner was busy doing homework, well, I would just imagine I was a bus driver, loading and unloading unruly student passengers to and from an imaginary school.

As I grew out of imaginary role-playing, my bike became my means of transportation, taking me from one friend’s house to another’s on an adventure around town (the neighborhood,) arriving at the dusty dunes of an empty field where we jumped and raced. Long before it was an “extreme sport,” televised and sponsored, I was just cruisin’ for fun and camaraderie.

The family of a career military veteran, we moved often and when we moved to Mexico City, Mexico, in middle school, my riding days were cut short by living in a foreign megalopolis. Over time, interests changed to playing golf instead of CHiPs and bus driving, and using my truck instead of my bike as the means of picking up friends for fun and adventure. Eventually, bike riding was just a fond memory of a childhood I was fortunate to have.

Biking for MS
Ryan and training buddy, Lauren, are ready to ride in their second Bike MS: Cox Atlanta ride together.

In 2012, during a particularly stressful term of grad school and an equally hectic period of work with the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, I noticed feeling unbalanced while walking halls and strange sensations running up and down my legs – like a mild, warm electric shock. The stress was really getting to me, I remember thinking to myself.  A few days later, a tightening of the muscles around my ribs and back, coupled with numbness and tingling in my arms, hands, legs, and feet began.  Soon, I could not walk my dog around the block without feeling like my left leg was going to buckle after every other step. When my vision began to double and severe pain behind my left eye pulsed when I would look left or right, I realized this could be more than just stress.

A best friend from college had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis ten years prior, so I wondered if this could be the cause. After a visit to my primary care physician resulted in my almost bringing her to the floor when she helped me walk a straight line, and in addition to the results of other medical tests, an MRI confirmed lesions in my brain – a tell-tale sign of the neurological autoimmune disease. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) does not have a known cause and the damage done results in a wide range of signs and symptoms. While treatments are available, traditional and alternative, there is no cure.


Once I was diagnosed, my uncle, who had just turned 65, decided to train and ride the Bike MS: Valero Ride to the River, one in a series of 100 cycling events across the US supporting the National MS Society. With the support of our family and friends, he was successful in completing this grueling two day ride. I was so inspired by his will and determination; I promised that once I stabilized, I would follow his lead and complete my own ride. Inspiration also flowed from the interactions I had with other MS patients who due to disease progression have lost their ability to walk, much less ride a bike.

I turned this inspiration into action and started training with a dear friend. It had been years since I was on a bike. And now living in Atlanta, the streets were a lot busier than the sleepy streets in New Mexico where I once rode. Despite the traffic challenges, it was like being reconnected with an old friend. The wind in my face and the sheer appreciation for the physical ability to ride was exhilarating! Oh, how I missed this.

Biking for Team Coca-Cola
Ryan and his uncle, Tony, completed the Bike MS: Cox Atlanta Ride together in Sept. 2014.

I was introduced to a fellow Coca-Cola associate who founded the Coca-Cola Cycling Club, a cycling community in Atlanta who ride in dozens of fundraising rides every year. After months of training and uncompromising support from family and friends, I completed the Bike MS: Cox Atlanta Ride, fulfilling a personal accomplishment and raising awareness and funds for MS. I was hooked.

In September 2014, I completed my second ride with Team Coca-Cola – this time with my uncle who traveled from Texas to cross the finish line with me. The ride is not just about the finish for me, it’s about the journey. Training in the early morning hours with my buddy in Piedmont Park, the camaraderie of riding with hundreds of other riders, and the challenge of raising funds for a cause I sincerely believe in are all invigorating motivators to push through to the end. It’s an exhilarating experience that pushes me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Life has brought me back to cruisin’ on my bike for fun and camaraderie, albeit with an added benefit. After meeting hundreds of MS buddies who are not able to ride because of MS, I am even more determined to continue this ride for as long as I am physically able to do so. It’s not just about a physical challenge, it’s about riding in the pursuit of ending MS. It’s about trying to make a meaningful difference by educating anyone who will listen to me about MS, encouraging those who have been diagnosed and raising money to support the programs that improve the lives of those living with MS. It’s about having MS and not letting MS beat me, or anyone else, if I can help it.

Ryan Rodriguez is communications manager for Coca-Cola Ambassador on the Public Affairs & Communications team in Atlanta.