Scioto Downs hosts Pacing for the Cure

by USTA Communications Dept

Have cause, will travel.

All it took was a message from a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer in Ohio for Jeff and Janine Gesek, founders of Pacing for the Cure, to pack up and head from their home in Burlington, NJ, to host an event at Scioto Downs Saturday night (June 4) to raise awareness of the debilitating central nervous system disease.

Conrad Photo
The Geseks and Shannon Mason-Hawkins join the winning connections and Scioto Downs to raise awareness for Multiple Sclerosis.

Having seen the group’s first event April 20 at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Facebook, Ohio resident Shannon Mason-Hawkins visited the group’s website and shared her story about her journey. A longtime horsewoman who had been afflicted with MS at age 23, Mason-Hawkins inspired the Geseks to make the trek to Ohio to honor her for her courageous battle against the disease.

“It’s great to be honored,” she said. “And it’s two things that I love: harness racing and raising awareness for MS.”

On the way to Ohio, the Geseks picked up Janine’s mother, Josephine, in western Pennsylvania, then set up an information table in the Scioto Downs clubhouse. They brought something special for the Columbus crowd as well: a jersey autographed by Scott Hartnell, who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team. They also raffled off two gift baskets and a dinner for four in the Scioto Downs clubhouse to those who donated to the cause.

The money raised will be donated to two MS-related organizations: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Research Institute.

“Basically, the national group concentrates on finding a cure through genetics and the MSRI is looking at the cellular level,” said Jeff. “Eventually we would also like to help out people who can’t afford the equipment needed to deal with MS, like vans, wheelchairs and walkers.”

Pacing for the Cure is a relatively new cause, having come about when Jeff saw a yearling in last year’s Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, PA, named Mr Bill G. That moniker is shared by Gesek’s father, Bill, who has been affected by MS for 31 years.

“Jeff said, ‘If we buy this horse, he is going to be destined to pace for a cure,’” Janine said in the winner’s circle before the night’s seventh race, the “Pacing for the Cure Pace.”

Now 2-years-old, the equine Mr Bill G hasn’t yet made it to the races, but when he does, the money earned by the son of Delmarvalous – Rafanelli will be donated to the two groups as well. Until then, the Geseks are hoping to visit other tracks and put on other events like Scioto did with tonight’s event and race.

The race, a $30,000 claiming contest, was won by Regal Hope for driver Josh Sutton and trainer Virgil Morgan Jr., the latter the co-owner with Carl Howard.

And speaking of hope, Jeff said he hopes that this cause will take off and carry on for years to come, both for his father’s sake and for the 2.3 million people who are affected by the disease in the U.S.

“Janine and I both work in the hospital system, but we eat, drink and sleep this right now,” he said. “We are going to do this for the rest of our lives as long as we are healthy.”

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