Manchester Rotary Club hosts 11th annual Gear Up for Lyme Uphill Climb

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MANCHESTER >> It's an uphill fight.

One day per year, Mount Equinox is open to bicyclists, but only to ride uphill. More than 70 will participate in the annual Gear Up for Lyme Climb this Saturday to combat the growing infection in the Northeast.

To date, about $70,000 has been raised by the 5.4 mile race in the 11 years it's been running, Susan Howard, Manchester Rotary Club president and race director said. A majority of the funds raised goes back to the Lyme Disease Association (LDA), but also to local charities to fight the disease in the area.

One can contract an infection through a bite from a black-legged tick — or deer tick — which leads to debilitation of the heart, nerves, joints and other parts of the body. In 1999 there were a total of seven confirmed cases of Lyme, which rose to 335 in 2014, according to the Vermont Department of Health. More often than not, an individual knows someone who had or has the disease, said Pat Smith, president of the LDA. New England has a high incidence rate of Lyme with Vermont ranking No. 2 behind Maine and ahead of Massachusetts, as stated on the 24/7 Wall Street website. For every 100,000 residents, there are 70.5 cases, primarily due to the state's geography and outdoor lifestyle for residents, which increases exposure.

Lyme disease is in more than 80 countries, with 16 tick-borne illnesses infecting U.S. citizens.

"Today, the numbers have drastically risen. It's amazing to me," Smith said. "This is something that's really problematic. The awareness is definitely helping. This has been huge. We have a lot more questions and people involved in [Vermont]."

Research conducted by the LDA has been published in 39 different peer review publications, Smith said. This year, she'll give a free talk about the disease at the Manchester Community Library after the race on August 6 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Event sponsors include Spiral Press Cafe, TPW Real Estate, The Law Offices of Whalen, Hand & Gilmour PLC, W.H. Shaw Insurance Agency, Inc., The Bank of Bennington, People's United Bank, Prospect Rehabilitation, PC, Green Mountain Veterinary Hospital and Battenkill Bicycles.

The race was not held last year, but in 2014, the top finisher was Chris Yura, 35, from Pennsylvania, who reached the top in 39 minutes and 19 seconds. Howard said the top records are under 40 minutes. In 2012, Erik Levinsohn finished in 35 minutes and 51 seconds among the men and Marti Shea finished in 41 minutes and 48 seconds among the women riders for first place in each group.

As racers climb, the mountain progresses 3,200 vertical feet in 5.4 miles, at a rate of 12 percent. Mount Equinox's summit elevation is 3,848 feet with the base at 600 feet, according to the event's website. The mountain is 12th in the nation for uphill climbs.

Susan Lynch of Dorset has won the race and came in the top three a few times. She said she enjoys the views at the top and the straight shot up.

"You need to pace yourself. Especially on the equinox because it's 5 miles and steep, white face isn't bad because its not as steep. You do pace yourself a little bit," she said. "There's some really beautiful spots. It's fun to get up there on a bike."

Barrack Evans, owner of Battenkill Bicycles, said he's known many types of bicycles to take on the challenge, from mountain bikes to road bikes. One year a participant used a unicycle. He also said that some people will change the gearing on their bike specifically for the race and that the easiest gear is probably the one most used.

This is the first year Evans has sponsored the event as a new owner to the bike shop.

Howard said that after racers are finished, transportation must be provided to bring them back down because the mountain is too steep for bikes to travel down.

She added that cyclists from Quebec participate most years, as well as people from Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

About 70 are currently registered, but Howard expects 10 more on race day. Registration costs $100 in cash or check on race day. Helmets are required. Race bags may be picked up on August 5 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the base of Skyline Drive behind the Welcome Center. Race day registration is from 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. The first wave of racers line up at 7:50 a.m. An awards ceremony and barbecue will follow at 11:30 a.m.

For more information visit www.gearupforlyme.com.

—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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