Crystal Phillips, Branch Out Bike Tour founder, and Tyler Hamilton, world-famous biker. Photo by Ayla Howlett

Branching out to support alternative brain research

Hundreds of cyclists ride from Panorama for the annual fundraiser event

By James Rose and Ayla Howlett

Special to the Pioneer

Hundreds of cyclists rendezvoused recently at Panorama Mountain Resort for the Branch Out Neurological Foundation’s flagship event, the ninth annual Branch Out Bike Tour.

The tour started at Panorama and traveled down to the floor of the Columbia Valley, winding its way around Lake Windermere and returning to Panorama. Riders chose between completing the 80, 100, or 160 kilometre distances. To participate, riders committed to raising a minimum of $300 each. After the ride, a celebratory barbecue at the finish line took place with riders cheering each other on while enjoying a burger and a well-deserved beer. The barbecue was followed by a gala dinner, silent auction, and awards ceremony with a special presentation about the neuroscience supported by each rider’s fundraising efforts.

To date, Branch Out has raised nearly $3 million for alternative brain research through events like the Branch Out Bike Tour, and funded over 52 research projects.

“This year, the event raised about a quarter of a million dollars to support research into alternative ways of combating the more than 600 diseases that affect the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Crystal Phillips. “One in three Canadians are directly impacted by neurological disorder, and the Branch Out Foundation is helping to find innovative and alternative solutions to keep brains at their best.”

Ms. Phillips is a former Olympic hopeful speed skater who fell short of her Olympic dream after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her late teens. Drug therapy, with its horrible side effects and minimal impact, wasn’t cutting it for her. She needed to make a change. Ms. Phillips decided to take a more natural approach by focusing on nutrition, herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and neurofeedback training. Her natural healing journey coupled with the drive and tenacity required to be an elite athlete led her to create the Branch Out Neurological Foundation.

“Not only did I feel better, but it made sense to me. I realized that there were a few gaps in the system: a lack of high-quality research, awareness and credibility for some of the more natural approaches to healing the nervous system.”

The profile of the event is growing with each year. Nine Olympians this year participated including speed skater Denny Morrison and snowboarder Ross Rebagliati. Tyler Hamilton was also a part of the Branch Out peloton. At one time, Mr. Hamilton was one of the world’s top pro-cyclists. He won three Tours de France as part of the Lance Armstrong-led US Postal Service team before leaving to lead his own Tour de France team in 2001. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Mr. Hamilton won a gold medal in an individual time trial event. His success however came crashing down after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. In 2010, the United Stated Federal Government subpoenaed Ms. Hamilton. He became the first pro-cyclist of his calibre to break what was known in the world of cycling as the omertà (Italian for code of silence). Next came an award winning tell-all memoir about his time in cycling, Lance was on Oprah, and the rest is history. Today, Mr. Hamilton leads a quiet life from his home in Missoula, Montana and is eager to help support events for a cause like the Branch Out Tour.

“I grew up wanting to be a ski racer and idolized Jimmie Heuga. Jimmie was the first ever American to medal in alpine skiing at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. When I suffered a career-ending injury in college, that’s when switched from skiing and took up cycling seriously. Later I learned Jimmie was diagnosed with MS and I really loved his exercise and activity centric approach to battling the disease. When Crystal [Phillips] contacted me to join on the Branch Out Tour, it was a no-brainer for me to help raise the profile of her organization’s efforts.”

Through the Foundation’s annual grants and NeuroCAM program, Branch Out aims to accelerate tech solutions and non-pharmaceutical approaches to neurological disorders, and supports top neuroscientists exploring alternative brain research.

“There is a growing interest in alternative approaches for treating neurological disorders,” said Ms. Phillips, “We’ve coined the termed NeuroCAM [Neuroscience + Complementary & Alternative Modalities] as we seek to fill this gap in the scientific literature by funding innovative and high-quality science that explores nutraceuticals, mind-body, tech, and personalized medicine as it relates to the nervous system.”

Branch Out believes that supporting NeuroCAM research conducted at the highest scientific standards will, through time, generate reliable data for physicians, patients, and allow for informed decisions about all possible treatment options.

“Our mission is for a world free from neurological disorders,” she said.To register for next year’s 10th year anniversary ride or for more information on how to donate, visit branchoutfoundation.com.

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