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Annual Woodstock MS Walk raises more than $80,000 on Sunday

By Chris Abbott, Postmedia Network

After nearly a week of grey skies, the sun came out Sunday morning for the annual MS Walk in Woodstock.

"It's the 20th year," noted site co-ordinator Leslie DeJongh, "and over $1 million raised. A large chunk of that stays in the community, buying assistive devices for people in our community who are afflicted with MS. The rest of the money goes to research.

"We are a family. Even though we see each other once a year, and we don't know everybody's names, we are all united for the same cause, working toward the same goal."

Tony DeJongh, co-founder of the Woodstock MS Walk, agreed it's the family connection that keeps the event going strong after two decades.

"Probably the biggest thing is that it really is a family event," he said. "It's not just the families that come. We've all become a bit of the 'MS family' within Oxford County. It's probably become less about raising money, and more about just getting together once a year. And there are quite literally friendships that exist in the room based on the walk – people come back every year just to see the same faces that have been coming for a number of years."

This year, a number of new teams joined the MS Walk, including a 30-member group, adding new life to the event that raised $81,300 Sunday, with more online donations expected to be added through the week.

"This is probably the healthiest it's been in the past four or five years," said Tony DeJongh. "I think our numbers are up. That encourages you to keep it going because there are always new people coming out."

The event has been held at Southside Park for the past dozen year, where participants walk two to six kilometres.

For Sharron Mills and her family, the connection to multiple sclerosis began more than 25 years ago.

"My sister-in-law (Mills), she started doing the MS Bike Tour probably 25-plus years ago," said Tonia Miles. "She wanted to find a cause that was not as well known as heart and stroke, cancer, and all those other ones, something she hadn't heard of. “She chose MS, so we've all done the MS Bike Tour over the years."

The family held fundraising barbecues, garage sales, bottle drives, car washes and more to raise funds for MS.

Eight years ago Tonia's son, Tim Miles, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"I was 28 or 29 when I found out," said Tim Miles, now 36, who did the 158-kilometre MS Bike Tours from London to Grand Bend and back to London, before learning he had MS.

"I was more worried about her (Tonia's) reaction than anything else," he said, recalling his own reaction eight years ago.

"At first, it was kind of like a slap in the face," Tonia Miles admitted. "Here we were trying to help the cause, and then this happened. But it also gave us all those extra years of learning about MS, so we were sort of knowledgeable."

The Miles family, including Tim Miles’ daughter Ashlee and his niece Hawley, have participated in the MS Walk as Team Target since 2010. Usually they average 8 to 12 members each year. This year was extra special with four generations of the family walking at Southside Park.

"We've got the whole crew out here," Tim Miles laughed.

"Our family has always been supportive of the MS Society, but Tim's diagnosis really strengthened our commitment to end MS and help those affected by the disease," said Tonia Miles.