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Family and friends travel to Bemidji each year for Walk MS

Just as Brenda Roche was finishing her doctorate work in clinical psychology in Montana and applying for pre-doctorate internships, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.

"It was kind of scary at that point because I really didn't know what to expect," said Brenda, who plans to join her family and friends Sunday for Walk MS in Bemidji.

The Bemidji Walk MS will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bemidji State University's Gillett Recreation-Fitness Center. The event is one of 17 walks to be held Sunday across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Walkers raise pledges to fund MS research projects around the world and support programs and services to help people living with MS in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. MS, a disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body and stops people from moving.

During her pre-doctorate and post-doctorate internships in the Twin Cities, Brenda, a native of International Falls, experienced flair-ups of MS symptoms, which include numbness and fatigue and are often triggered by heat and humidity. After her internships, she returned to Montana where the weather is milder and she has only experienced flair-ups once a year.

Brenda will travel from her home in Billings, Mont., to Bemidji for Walk MS with her husband, John Schaack, daughters Jessica Goodale and Megan Schaack, and grandchildren Cole Goodale, 7, and Olivia Goodale, 4.

"My husband and family are extremely supportive," said Brenda, who is a neuropsychologist in Billings.

When Brenda was diagnosed with MS nine years ago at age 35, her parents, John and Mary Roche of International Falls, began searching for a way to help find a cure. They discovered a way when Mary picked up a pamphlet about Walk MS at a clinic. The couple began walking in the Bemidji Walk MS in 2001 -- the nearest walk at the time -- and have returned every year since.

"It's just been a perfect place for us to walk," said Mary, noting that the walk is held on an indoor track.

Their team, "Binkie's Family and Friends," named after Brenda's nickname, has grown to about 30 members, most of whom travel from out of town for the event. Members of last year's team ranged from Brenda's 93-year-old grandmother to a 3-month-old family member.

Last year, Brenda's cousins in Alaska formed a Walk MS team, "Binkie's Family and Friends in Alaska."

"It's just a lot of support," Brenda said. "It means everything."

Besides Walk MS in Bemidji, John and Mary, along with their daughter Tammy Roche, have participated in Challenge Walk MS in the Twin Cities. The 50-mile walk spans three days.

Mary said she hopes a cure for MS will be found or a reason behind the disease will be discovered someday.

"We always say, 'They might not find a cure for our daughter, but they might find a cure for someone else's loved one,'" she said.

For more details or to register for Walk MS, visit People may also register at the event.