The only thing that could have stopped 47-year-old Jeffrey Zaniker from completing the Race Across America bike event was a herd of cows in Utah.
"We got stuck behind a couple of farmers on horseback driving cows," Zaniker said. "There were about 200-300 cows and four riders on horseback, and the road was tied up on both sides."
Zaniker, an Accenture executive in Indianapolis, managed to work through the livestock logjam and finished the 3,000-mile trips that began June 14 in Oceanside, California, and ended six days later in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Race Across America is one of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's projects to raise money and awareness. Zaniker was diagnosed with MS in 2002, and his Zaniker's father, Don, had passed away from an aggressive form of MS in 1987.
"It was such a rapid deterioration from being perfectly healthy, working, supporting a family to being completely disabled and in a wheelchair," Zaniker said about his father.
Zaniker, like his father, was a salesman at the time of their diagnosis. While in a sales role for Accenture, Zaniker had to travel four to five days a week, including a couple of stints throughout Europe. The stress of travel and working took a toll on Zaniker's health.
"I think the thing that was most difficult was taking care of myself," Zaniker said. "It was tough to keep up any kind of physical regime and take care of myself. That is where it got to the point where enough is enough."
When Zaniker told Accenture of his condition, he was transferred to the managing director role, which called for significantly reduced travel and less hours. Since the transition, Zaniker has lost 40 pounds and is less stressed.
Zaniker and a friend, who also has MS, came up with the idea to create a bike team to compete in the Race Across America, an event that was launched in 1982. Zaniker was part of an eight-rider team, called Gears to a Cure, that has raised about $90,000 since April. Of the 23 members involved with the team, nobody is closer to Zaniker than brother John.
"He was one of the strongest supporters," Zaniker said of his brother.
Jeff and John Zaniker rode the second shift together. They were on the bikes for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes for two hours stretches. The Gears to a Cure team biked the 3,000 course in six days. When Zaniker crossed the finishline, he was greeted by his wife and three children.
"You are going to have to figure out how to cope with it," Zaniker said. "Your family goes on the journey with you and deal with the fact that slowly, little by little, your health is going to deteriorate to varying degrees. I think it would be very difficult to deal with this disease if you didn't have that support network."