Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease which is inflammation of the central nervous system. The disease takes muscles ability to function and is believed to be an autoimmune disease.
Ryan Zimmerman was only 11 when his mother Cheryl was diagnosed with MS. When he was 16, his mother became wheelchair bound. Now, Cheryl Zimmerman can no longer move any part of her body below her shoulders.
After his mother was diagnosed with the debilitating disease, Ryan and his brother Shawn were acutely affected growing up. They weren’t like the other kids their age. They helped run the house by cooking and cleaning, and making errands their mother couldn’t because of a disease that stole her abilities to function and independence.
“It made him grow up a lot faster,” Cheryl Zimmerman said of her diagnosis of MS.
Now Ryan Zimmerman isn’t a young baseball player growing up in the Virginia Beach area, or an emerging star at the University of Virginia. No, these days he’s one of the top third basemen in all of baseball and one of the current Nationals who’s been around long enough to see the bad and emerge on the cusp of something special. Among the numerous accolades, baseball recognition, and constantly playing baseball day in and day out, Zimmerman’s roots, his mother and her battle with MS isn’t too far off in his thoughts.
“It [MS] can mess up what you can do or how you go about what you do, but she doesn’t let it mess up who she is. No matter what happens to your mom, she’s always going to look the same. She’s always been your mom,” Ryan said.
“You’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think it affected you mentally or psychologically or any of those things. You do the best you can with a crappy situation. Cheryl and I have often talked about, we try to stay positive and set a good example for our boys and other people suffering with MS. One of our goals was to try to let our boys have as much a normal life as possible,” Ryan’s father, Keith Zimmerman said.
Ryan’s parents example still sticks to him. Seven years a go Zimmerman started the ziMS Foundation, which is dedicated to “giving back to his community and finding a cure for this unpredictable disease.”
Since its founding, the ziMS Foundation has held numerous charity events such as golf tournaments and most recently, Ryan Zimmerman’s “Night at the Park.” All of which are all aimed at raising awareness, contributions, and support for MS. The foundation’s raised over $500,000 since it was founded.
As a member of the Nationals, Zimmerman easily meshed his status as a member of the Nationals with his involvement with his foundation and continued pursuit in the fight of MS. What’s unique about that is that Zimmerman’s incorporated the Nationals and Nationals Park into his work for ziMS.
In 2010, Zimmerman launched his first “Night at the Park” at Nationals Park. Since then, the event has become more widely known in the DC sports world and well attended by his teammates at the ballpark. The event is filled with entertainment (previous entertainers have included Rodney Atkins, David Blaine, and the Batting Stance Guy) as well as a silent auction that has previous featured items such as a VIP MLB All-Star Game experience, and various other sports memorabilia. 2010′s Night raised $200,000.
Last year, “A Night at the Park” garnered even more success, attracting more corporate sponsors (14, to be exact). This year, Zimmerman, his family and foundation hope to continue spreading awareness and raising contributions for the debilitating disease with the third annual “Night at the Park” today. Entertainment this year is Guster.
Among the drinks, auction & entertainment, Zimmerman will take center stage, but not in a pressure situation at the plate in a game. No, there are other baseball games to come. He’ll take the stage for MS, and more importantly, his mother.