The National Multiple Sclerosis Society canceled its nationwide annual walks this year due to the concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

That didn't stop Dennis Arner, diagnosed in 1995 with the disease of the central nervous system, from his activism for MS awareness.

Saturday, Coach Arner and Friends -- about 170 of them wearing white T-shirts proclaiming their cause -- met at Yesness Park in south Casper for their own walk.

A Casper native, he said his activism began the year he was diagnosed with the disease that attacks the central nervous system -- brain, spinal cord, optic nerves -- and interferes with the signals it sends elsewhere in the body such as the fingers.

Molly Palmer, a health care provider with the Cheyenne office of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said those diagnosed with MS apparently are not more susceptible to COVID-19 than others in the general population. The Society says about 1 million people over 18 in the U.S. live with the disease, according to the website.

But a problem arises because some of the medications patients take to treat MS -- it has no cure so far -- can compromise the immune system and that can enable the coronavirus' ability to attack a body, Palmer said.

The research to find treatments is among the money raised by Arner and those around the country on the annual MS walk.

He said the first year's walk raised $5,000, and he's helped organized the events and fundraising since. Arner estimated this year's event raised $12,000 for equipment and research for the chronic disease. Local businesses contributed supplies, food and refreshments after the walk ended.

Arner maintains a rigorous personal fight to cope. He gets up at 3 a.m., reads the Bible for an hour or two, prays for those who send him prayer requests, mounts his black Electric Bike Co., bicycle and rides throughout Casper and beyond.

Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

Arner almost daily posts pictures of his bike in front of businesses, schools, churches, local landmarks and wherever else he roams.

About 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia and that has slowed him down physically, he said.

But it hasn't slowed his spirit or his humor to poke fun at his condition.

After a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance near the dock at Yesness Pond, Arner stood with his wife, Karla, he said he planned to give a speech he wrote about dementia, but left it at home.

Before the walk, he added that in Yesness Park on Saturday there was no COVID-19, no rioting, just friends.

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