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RAGBRAI director reveals battle with incurable disease; invites others to share on I Ride 4 Day

  • 29 June, 2023
  • Courtney Crowder

Matt Phippen’s vision was cloudy that morning, like a corona of fuzz had descended on the periphery of his sight sometime in the night.

He’d noticed the obstruction a few hours earlier as he got ready for his Sunday closing shift at Scheels. He’d been groggy and figured he’d looked too closely at his bathroom lights, that this was one of those flares you squint away after glancing at a bright sun.

But the blurriness remained for hours.

Then, a few days later, his pointer finger started to go numb, and soon his thumb, too. Maybe he slept on his hand, he thought. Or maybe this was the lingering result of fracturing his collarbone a few months earlier.

But the shooting tingle remained for weeks.

When the prickling crawled up his arm and then onto his outer ear, doctors ordered an MRI. And the resulting scan showed lesions on his spine and his brain.

Each stage of Phippen’s personal medical mystery progressed slowly, like a movie playing at half speed. But when he and his wife found themselves sitting in a small doctor’s office, eyes wide like flashbulbs, the film violently lurched forward, moving in time with their racing hearts.

You have multiple sclerosis, the doctor said.

Bob Libby, CEO of CARE Ambulance, right, talks with Matt Phippen during the RAGBRAI route inspection ride this month.

“He asked me if I had any questions, but I had no idea what to even ask him,” says Phippen, who’d never known anyone with multiple sclerosis, never been around anyone with the disease better known by its initials, MS. “I just remember thinking, ‘OK, now what? What do we do? How do we fix this?’

“And the unfortunate part is, there really is no fix.”

In the nearly seven years since that appointment, Phippen has kept his diagnosis close, scared of how his life might change; how his wife and three daughters’ lives might change. Scared of, if he’s being honest, giving the disease undue power over him if he dedicates too much energy to it and too many thoughts.

For someone who dwells and researches, someone who likes to break things down into their parts, to know about each detail, before he helps put it back together, Phippen, 43, spent a lot of time pushing his prognosis away. Instead, he immersed himself in his passion for cycling and, recently, his new job with RAGBRAI.

More:Siblings to meet for first time on RAGBRAI

But he’s announcing his fight with MS for the first time publicly to honor a new phase in his journey, a conquering of those fears and an acknowledgment of the power of sharing, a power he fully realized on last year’s RAGBRAI.

He’ll represent his journey with MS during RAGBRAI’s I Ride 4 Day, a new initiative launched in partnership with Go Fund Me to allow riders to show their pride, share their stories and hopefully raise some money for causes close to their hearts.

“The more people you have conversations with, the easier it is not to put your fists up like you want to fight or push somebody away to protect yourself,” he says. “Instead, you lean into it, and you allow yourself to open up and talk.”

“It’s what our world needs more of: People just truly opening up to each other and being vulnerable and falling on the sword and saying, ‘This is what I’m dealing with.’ And doing so knowing that those around them are going to offer support.”

‘Back on a bike’: Cycling’s accessibility excellent for MS management

To Phippen, bicycles have always been vehicles for way more than just getting from here to there.

They’re goal generators, catalysts for change on two wheels — whether that be a physical goal to lose weight, say; or an emotional challenge like getting closer to a family member or even a simple Saturday aspiration to lose yourself in the countryside for a few hours.


  1. luvcheez73

    Thank you for sharing and keep fighting, Matt! My wife has lived with MS for 22 years and this past weekend we participated in the Tour de Farms for BikeMS out near DeKalb, IL. These are fundraisers for the National MS Society that are held all over the country. They are also great places to meet new people and share experiences. My wife completed her longest ride ever of 62 miles last Saturday. It was a long, hot day but she kept pedaling and made it through. Now she’s excited to tackle new cycling goals.

  2. cvrider

    Matt, THANK YOU for sharing your story to the RAGBRAI family. I had the pleasure of talking with Matt last year on RAGBRAI in Lansing and I am not taking credit for the Day 4 “Ride For A Cause” idea but I shared that I thought there should be a day dedicated for the different causes that people support for example, Bike for a cure, Cancer, MS, Alzheimer’s etc. Matt shared with me that he was battling MS. Thank you for having the Ride for a Cause day and for sharing your fight with MS, I will be wearing my BikeMS Jersey that day to support my brother that has MS.

  3. richardmcore

    Proud of you, Matt! Thank you for creating the “I Ride 4 Day”! I will be proudly wearing my I Ride With MS jersey on that day, and look forward to meeting you. I’ve had MS since 2004, and am now 63 years old. I continued working in high-stress journalism jobs for 15 years after my diagnosis. I finally went on Social Security Disability in 2019 when it became apparent that sitting at the computer all day was not doing me any good. My body was locking up. I then dedicated myself to following my doctor’s advice to “keep moving.” So much so (Type A personality) that in 2022 I achieved a dream I’d held since I was 16 — riding solo from Los Angeles to the coast of Massachusetts, covering 3,800 miles in 86 days (with a few stops to spend time with family and friends along the way). You’ve taken a huge step in going public. I hope that in doing so you’ve felt a little weight lifted from your shoulders. You now have numerous friends in the MS community who you can reach out to when the going gets tough. … Keep moving! :-)

  4. SRampy

    MS stops people from moving, MS won’t stop me from reaching the final city destination that is Ragbrai. My family has spent 12 years fundraising for the best research in the US. We are a foundation focused on re-myelination and fund doctors in the US in that pursuit. Go to to learn about our cause and you can donate to my cause page here.

  5. John Sorenson

    Keep fighting! I am fighting too; only my fight is slightly different. I want to ride for a day: from Ames to Des Moines during RAGBRAI 2023 & I don’t have a pass. How can I get a pass for me & my friend? I have contacted the RAGBRAI marketing director to no avail. Contact information follows: John Sorenson
    2501 50th Street
    Des Moines, IA 50310
    I want to help break the record!

  6. terricawisner

    I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 52 years old 4 years ago. The Bafiertam did very little to help me. The medical team did even less. My decline was rapid and devastating. It was muscle weakness at first, then my hands and tremors. Last year, a family friend told us about Natural Herbs Centre and their successful MS Ayurveda TREATMENT, we visited their website naturalherbscentre. com and ordered their Multiple Sclerosis Ayurveda protocol, i am happy to report the treatment effectively treated and reversed my Multiple Sclerosis, most of my symptoms stopped, I’m able to walk and my writing is becoming great, sleep well and exercise regularly. I’m  active now, I can personally vouch for  these remedy but you would probably need to decide what works best for you🧡.

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