10:21 AM

Student with MS Plans to Bike 196 Miles

Dean Chagaris poses for a photo in his handcycle.For the second time, Dean Chagaris, a Marketing major on the Pre-Law track, will participate in the BPMS150. The BP MS150 is an annual cycling ride from Houston to Austin that spans April 27 through 28. Each participant must raise a minimum of $400 to ride in the race, which fundraises and raises awareness for Multiple Sclerosis.

However, Chagaris’s participation is unique: He himself has MS.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

With Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, the immune system damages the protective covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called the Myelin Sheath. This damage disrupts electrical communication between the brain and the body. Consequently, the result is often the loss of a mobility or blindness, among other issues. No two cases of MS are the same, as each person is afflicted in a different way.

This past February, a National Multiple Sclerosis Society study revealed that the disease affects a million Americans, a number double the estimate of years past. At present, its cause remains unknown.

A few days before his 36th birthday, Chagaris woke up paralyzed. After a two-day long ordeal at the hospital, he received the life-changing news that he had MS. Confined to a wheelchair, he had significant difficulties throughout the first few years following his diagnosis.

“Every day after that is hard, you know?” he said. “It’s hard to do things, but you just manage to adapt to your environment and figure out how to make it.”

Figuring It Out

However, Chagaris’s life changed once again in 2016. That year, he reconnected with Fred Zapalac, an acquaintance and co-owner of Blue Line Bike Lab. After finding out about Chagaris’s disease, Zapalac and staff raised money to donate a used handcycle to him.

From that moment, he committed himself to training for the BP MS150. That season, in 2017, he participated in the race for the first time. For Chagaris, the handcycle alone has proven itself to be a way to raise awareness about the disease.

“Whenever I ride my bike, it opens up the communication channel because people stop and ask me what I’m doing,” Chagaris said. “And then they’re like, ‘I know someone who has MS!’ So they’re able to start making connections of where they’ve heard about it before or where they’ve learned about it. And then they get to meet and talk to somebody who’s directly affected with it.”

The Journey to Purpose

This year, Chagaris will use a new hand cycle he received from Meat Fight, a non-profit organization that fundraises to support those living with MS. With the new bike, he hopes to conquer all 196 miles of the race.

The most important thing he’s gained from participating in the BP MS150, Chagaris said, is a new perspective on life. Before he was stricken with MS, he said that he was not living the life he believes he was meant to live. Through participating in events such as this race, he has helped save the lives of others.

MS, a disease that took from him, has ended up showing him how to give back to others.

“This is just a speedbump on me getting back to where I need to be,” Chagaris said. “I look at it as if this needed to happen, in a way, so that I could really take care of some things that had to get taken care of. The universe knows what’s up, God knows what’s up. You’ve just gotta have faith in the reason behind everything. I mean, isn’t that what they teach us here?”

Story by Katie Fleming