In his early 40s, Jim Haraughty awoke one morning to a disturbing new reality. The right side of his face was drooping and his arm wasn’t working properly either. Fearing a stroke, doctors eventually reached a different diagnosis for the married father of two: Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic neurological condition for which there is no definitive cause or cure. Instead of letting this devastating news overwhelm his life, Haraughty took another tack. He went motorcycle racing.
Jim Haraughty will race the Triumph Bonneville this October at its namesake track, the famous Bonneville Salt Flats.
Haraughty, now 50, founded Team MS Racing
. The motto of Team MS is “racing for research and awareness”, but the non-profit organization also serves as a resource for the more than 250,000 people living with the disease – with 200 new cases every week (numbers based on National Institutes of Health
“When I was diagnosed 7-8 years ago there wasn’t a lot of information centralized anywhere,” says Haraughty, a resident of Monona, Wisconsin. “What I wanted to do is a create some site where people living with MS can keep up with current developments with medicine and also get a little background, because when you’re newly diagnosed it’s really kind of scary. I created this website to make a centralized area where people can come and ask questions.”
The Team MS website posts news regarding MS research and treatment options. Visitors can even send in a question to Jim’s own neurologist, as well as share their stories with others afflicted by the illness for support.
Team MS Racing
Racing wasn’t on the docket originally. Team MS began as “a little sticker campaign,” as Jim describes it, “keeping the illness in the public eye, so that people are aware of it and hopefully research keeps going toward it, and eventually we find a way to beat it.”
But soon motorcycles crept into the equation. Having grown up around bikes, Haraughty raced motocross as a youth. Injuries switched his focus from dirt to roadracing in his early 20s, before he left the sport entirely.
Haraughty rode in his youth, but after being diagnosed with MS in his early 40s, he went back to the track racing AHRMA and WERA.
“I always felt more comfortable on two wheels than on my own two feet, but then life kind of takes over. You know family, work, what have you…,” explains Haraughty (pronounced Ha-ra-tee). “When I started the charity then I was thinking ‘well, how can I drive awareness?’ I thought ‘well, I think I’ll start racing motorcycles again.’”
A local shop provided support, as Jim began racing a vintage Triumph
Bonneville in AHRMA. The racing bug took hold and he started racing an SV650 in WERA with endurance teammates Mark Young and Morgan Broadhead.
“I really enjoyed and really missed doing that,” recalls Haraughty on his WERA racing. “But that is a great way to empty your pocket book as fast as you can… But it was a blast. We did well. We finished fifth in the country the first year.”
Costs came in to play when it came time for Jim to hang up the roadracing leathers, but so did MS.
MS is classified as an auto-immune disease. The body, for reasons still unknown, attacks the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers, causing neurological impairment. The name of the disease derives from the lesions (scleroses) which scar the nervous tissue.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis are myriad, but include numbness, as well as loss of mobility, vision and balance. Complicating treatment, the disease presents itself and progresses in very different ways. For some, symptoms worsen slowly without any recovery. For others, symptoms flare up and debilitate the patient before receding to a partial recovery. The only certainty is that while treatments are being developed to slow its progression, at present there is no cure (although exciting research suggests there may be significant treatment advances in the future).
“MS is almost like Christmas, you wake up every morning and see what you have that day,” explains Jim. “Some days you’ll have a great day and you’ll feel like you’re 18 again. It’s kind of a high. It’s almost euphoric how good it feels to be able to move.”
Once his MS symptoms made roadracing problematic, Jim switched his attention to the Bonneville salt.
Other days, the reverse is true, which makes MS not only physically but emotionally exhausting. MS can directly impair cognitive function, but indirectly the loss of mobility and function can lead to depression. MS patients also experience a higher suicide rate than the general population.
The key, in Jim’s opinion, is focusing what you can
do and challenging yourself. For Jim, so far, that means racing doesn’t end altogether.
“I stopped road racing because it got to the point where my balance was an issue. And I realized it’s one thing to take myself down on the track it’s another thing if I hurt someone else because of it. That would be stupid,” says Jim. “But I figure Bonneville, it’s a straight line, how bad can I screw it up (laughing)!”
Bonneville LSR Project
Running into another rider is not a concern land speed racing on the vast, miles-long expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Haraughty has already raced his old AHRMA Triumph Bonneville (quite fitting bike for the job) with success, just missing an LSR record.
The Triumph Bonneville has received a thorough makeover for its planned LSR-record run.
“The last time I ran it [the Triumph Bonneville] as the old classic I got a 107 and couldn’t get it into fourth gear. The record is 100,” says Jim, who was unable to make the return run required to snag the record. He will return to Bonneville, however, this October 7-10 to race the SCTA-sanctioned Bonneville World Finals.
“We’re redoing the old bike completely. Now it’s going to be pretty wild actually,” promises Jim.
The Bonnie will little resemble its vintage past. Racing in a special construction class, the Triumph will feature a stretched out trellis frame and aerodynamic bodywork. The 650 motor gets some more muscle as well, with Haraughty and his Team MS friends adding a blower and probably running nitrous too.
“I honestly think we have a good shot at the record this year. Don’t ask me a speed, because I’m not going to jinx it. And I know if I say it, we’ll jinx it, but I think we got one this year.”
Team MS Future
The future for Haraughty’s Bonneville run and Team MS are filled with promise. Reflecting on his work thus far, Jim is grateful for the opportunities his charity has created.
World Rally racer Niall McShae donned the Team MS banner at the 2008 X Games.
“I’ve met amazing people because of my MS. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some really incredible people and experience a lot of things. And I know a lot of people look at the MS as ‘it must be so hard and terrible and all that’ but it’s opened a lot of doors too. Through the charity work, I mean we had Niall McShea, who’s the world production rally champion, race a Team MS car at the X Games last year. We never would have had that!”
McShae may be the biggest name to don Team MS colors, but motorcycle teams bearing the Team MS banner have raced in GNCC and Baja too. Team MS stickers adorn several car and bicycle racers as well, and racers in any discipline are welcome to represent Team MS as a charity sponsor.
“There’s just been so many really neat people that have stepped up. And that’s kind of the concept of the whole Team MS thing. It’s open to anybody and any avenue, because the more people that spread the word the better.”
The research of new drugs and treatment options, including the use of stem cells, is providing new hope for MS patients. For now Jim’s goal is to keep MS awareness in the public high, with riders and racers .
“Keeping awareness going, trying to get as much publicity as possible, to spread the word about MS and people living with MS. The whole point of this is you got to keep living. Whether you’re restricted to a chair or restricted in movements, or in mental capabilities as far as thought process, which even when I was diagnosed they said wasn’t part of MS, but it is… You got to find your own challenges and keep moving. You got to still live life and keep moving forward.”
Jim lives with a sense of purpose and inspiring will. The disease has forever altered his life, but it hasn’t slowed him down.
“I’ve met some people living with MS that MS dominates their life,” says Jim, “I’ve met more people that have MS that don’t let MS dominate their life. And I think that’s the message we really want to send.”
Haraughty and the Team MS LSR squad will race their Triumph at the Bonneville World Finals, October 7-10. Donations for the Team MS Bonneville 2009 record attempt are tax deductible. To donate, or join Team MS and participate in the sticker campaign, visit www.teamms.org