If you live in her North Woburn neighborhood or near Horn Pond, chances are you’ve seen Sue Carrai walking. She’s enjoying the exercise and fresh air, of course, but she’s also walking with a purpose: To ready herself for her next walk in the annual Cape Cod Challenge.
Carrai, of Woburn, has participated every year since 2003 and in September will make her 12th walk in the Cape Cod Challenge, which raises money to help find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. The 3-day event will be held Labor Day weekend (Sept. 5-7), and covers 50 miles across Cape Cod, starting and finishing in Hyannis.
“The Cape Cod Challenge has become near and dear to my heart,” Carrai said. “I look forward to it every year, not just because it raises money for a good cause, but because I get to see some of the very good friends I’ve made over the years.”
Carrai’s roots in Woburn run deep. She’s lived in North Woburn for the past 10 years, and before that her father was a music teacher in the Woburn school system, starting in 1963 and working at both junior high schools (now middle schools) in the city. She has also resided in Wakefield.
Her father’s musical influence led her to the New England Conservatory of Music, where she formed a friendship with someone who was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and then while performing at a music festival in Colorado, she formed a friendship with another person who was diagnosed with MS.
“This was back in the early ‘80s, when there was not much in the way of medical information about MS,” Carrai said.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 2.5 million people worldwide and 400,000 in the United States are afflicted with MS, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. The insulating covers of the brain and the spinal cord become inflamed and may cause a wide range of neurological problems, with autonomic, visual, sensory and motor issues being the most common. There is no known cure, though there are modifying treatments have been developed and research continues.
Of course, medical advancements require funding, and there’s where organizations like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and people like Sue Carrai contribute. Her first fund-raising effort was through the Reading YMCA, and she was involved in another event sponsored by a Boston radio station.
“In the beginning, I thought ‘This is something I can do,’” she said. “And it just kind of took off from there.”
Since 2003, Carrai has raised $120,000 through her participation in the Cape Cod Challenge, and this year she has set a goal to raise $15,000 from folks in her neighborhood, in the city, state and throughout New England. The company for which she works will match any donation of $50 or more.
Carrai has also expanded her network of friends since becoming involved in the Cape Cod Challenge, which has grown to about 700 participants. She also serves in the steering committee for the walk, which she says is “now the most successful challenge in the country.”
The walk starts in Hyannis through some of the most scenic places on Cape Cod – on the first day heading east toward Yarmouth, Dennis, and Brewster along the Cape Cod rail trial, then on the second day through Orleans and Eastham, to the Coast Guard beach, then on the third day back through Brewster and Dennis and culminates with a barbecue.
Walkers cover 20 miles the first two days and then 10 miles on the last day.
Obviously, walking 50 miles in about 72 hours is no small undertaking, and Carrai is almost always in training, walking through her neighborhood in North Woburn or around scenic Horn Pond along the most popular and renowned route in the city. She also spends time at a family cottage in Sandwich and enjoys walking along the Cape Cod Canal.
“I walk every day of the year, except I skipped a couple of days in the winter when it was about 5 degrees outside,” Carrai said. “I love it, not only because I’m out getting exercise, but I also get to meet and talk with people. Everyone in my neighborhood (in North Woburn) knows me as the lady who walks.”
An injury has forced her to scale back her participation in the walk itself this year, but she tends to go as far as she can, and raise as much funds as she can to help.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to get involved with the MS Society and all their committed, hard-working people. It’s more than just finding a cure, it’s also about helping people with MS to get a little bit of their mobility back,” Carrai said. “If we can get (someone in the state) a wheelchair ramp, then that will help them.”
For more information about the Cape Cod Challenge or to donate to Sue Carrai’s fund-raising effort, please visit her MS webpage at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/suecarrai2014.