The COVID-19 pandemic has put many dreams on hold. When Daniel Buckelew, Finance Director, US Rare Blood Disorders & Rare Disease, Sanofi Genzyme, heard the Boston Marathon was canceled for 2020, he set his sights on the following year – and raising even more funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. Daniel reflects on how his own MS journey inspired him to reach for goals he never thought possible.
I had just finished my MBA when I received my multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis ten years ago. I was dealing with basically all of the symptoms associated with MS while at school and maintaining employment with Sanofi – numbness, blurry vision, and more. I had always lived an active lifestyle and even played soccer during my first two years in college, but MS had begun to rob me of my ability to be active. I was just 27 years old and devastated by the diagnosis. I didn’t want to be defined by MS, so I shut myself off from the world.
My father, however, took the opposite approach. He immediately started to research to learn about available treatments and encouraged me to see a neurologist who specializes in MS. He also pushed me to captain a team of family and friends for the local National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) walk in New Jersey. I ended up sitting at a picnic table waiting for my team to finish, unable to make it across the finish line. I vowed to regain my strength and take charge of my MS.
A year later I participated in the same NMSS walk and, this time, I finished! I became more and more involved with the organization, walking each year and sharing a new chapter of my story in my team’s blog. As time passed, I did more than walk – I started to run 5K’s, MuckFests, Tough Mudders and other endurance events to continue to physically challenge myself.
The last time I participated in the NJ NMSS walk, I was recognized as the “most inspirational walker.” To my surprise during the ribbon cutting ceremony, a local congresswoman handed me the microphone. I was completely unprepared, but in hindsight that was a good thing. I realized by sharing my story in an open, authentic, transparent way, I can help others. It was truly a blessing to have the opportunity to thank everyone for all their support in combating this disease. This mindset is what drives me every day in my work and personal life.
This passion also led me to pursue an opportunity with Sanofi Genzyme to serve on the MS team which involved moving with my family from New Jersey to Massachusetts. This became a stepping-stone to more senior roles in Oncology and then in our Rare Blood Disorders and Rare Disease franchises, so MS has certainly not held me back at work. Sharing my experience as an MS patient with new hires as part of the Sanofi Genzyme training programs, Town Halls and General Sessions, continues to be a meaningful way for me to tell my story in hopes of helping others.
In Fall of 2019, I wanted to establish a new milestone for my journey and set my sights on running the Boston Marathon as part of the Marathon Strides Against MS team. In addition to the Boston Marathon being one of the most competitive races in the world, only a select few make it onto the NMSS marathon charity team. Fundraising is key to selection; my family, friends and Sanofi colleagues have helped me raise over $12K for NMSS so far.
Although not surprised, I was disappointed when the 2020 race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I see this cancellation now as an opportunity to show even more support for those impacted by MS during these difficult times. Just because much of life as we knew it seems to have slowed down or changed, it does not mean the same applies to MS. My hope is to secure a spot on next year’s team and run in the world’s most famous marathon at the earliest opportunity. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from MS, it’s to not let anything stand in the way of working toward your goals. The comeback will be stronger than the setback!