Mike Esmonde, a Dr. Phillips resident and Universal Studios technical manager, raises more than $500,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mid Florida Chapter.
Mike Esmonde has been raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mid Florida Chapter for more than 22 years. To date, the Dr. Phillips resident has raised in excess of $500,000 to aid the organization and its life-saving resources and programs.
An avid cycling enthusiast, Mike admits he began fundraising on a “social lark” after seeing an advertisement for a Bike MS event in one of his cycling magazines.
“At first I had no idea what MS was,” he said. “In the early years, I joined the event to meet people. Then I learned more about the disease, and I began to see so many beautiful people, many times in only their mid-30s, getting [diagnosed] with it. I was even more inspired to raise money for the MS Society and try to help somebody. The money raised really goes to take care of its clients and goes to fund research. And now that I have been so involved, I just can’t stop.
“For me it is almost like part of my life. That’s how far the event has come for me. It’s part of the rhythm of my life — to get the funds and get back in shape and have fun riding. It is a very meaningful part of my life, no doubt about it.”
The recipient of the Bike MS Top Fundraiser Award for 10 of the past 11 years, Mike usually averages no less than $30,000 per year in donations. One year, he raised $37,000.
Each year, Mike contacts a list of 275 people, composed of about 10 percent family members and 90 percent friends and colleagues he has connected with throughout the course of an exciting career in show business.“I’ve known Mike for 30 plus years, and he has brought to bike fundraising the same skills, dedication and style he has shown in all the other aspects of his life,” said his colleague Robert “Fuzzy” Frazer, project manager at Universal Studios. “He was the one guy we trusted in Kiss management to do the right thing — selfless, dedicated, always thinking of the end goal. He has raised more donations some years as a single person than most teams raise as a group effort, plus he has prodded some of us reluctant participants to see the goal as he sees it, all for the better good.”
Working as a lighting designer and later as a production stage manager, Mike spent 15 years in the music business, touring with performers like Kiss, Cat Stevens, Chicago, The Cars, Elton John, U2 and Michael Jackson, among others.
While on tour with Jethro Tull in 1977, Mike purchased his first bike and took up his now favorite pastime.“A friend and I bought two bikes at a London open market,” he said. “We had the day off, and it was a great way to get out on our own and get around.”
Mike enjoyed it so much, he kept it up, and began to look forward to his days off in each new city.
“It’s really a great way to see a city and sightsee; it’s the best way to see the world,” he said.
Mike continues to ride an average of five to six miles each day. He commutes daily to and from Universal Studios, where he has been a technical manager, or “show guy,” as he likes to be called, since 1989.
“I ride anywhere,” he said. “Rain or shine, I’ll put my raincoat on and head to work. In the morning, it’s great, because it wakes you up and gets all your systems operating; and on the way home it’s relaxing, cathartic. It helps put the day behind you and gives you a feeling of freedom.”
Mike and his late wife, Lisa, who he met in fourth grade and was married to for 36 years, shared their love of cycling with their four children and five grandchildren.
“Bikes are definitely a family thing,” he said. “It’s a common thread that runs through the family.”
In addition to his dedication to the MS Society, Mike also volunteers with the theater program at Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, a year-round camp that serves seriously ill children throughout Florida.
When it comes to raising money, Mike admits that he is successful because of his creative style of fundraising — a cleverly crafted letter asking for support. Each year, his letter changes. Past themes have included Curious George; a fake ransom note; Harry Potter; a purposefully awful poem; and a four-page superhero-themed book, complete with photos of Mike.
“There is an art to it,” Mike said. “And each and every year, as I receive the letters back, it’s like Christmas all over again. These letters go all over the country. I get letters and the checks back with updates from my friends and their families. It’s a very social thing for me. It’s probably as much of a benefit for me as it is for the MS Society. I get as much as I give, if not more.”
“[His] approach to fundraising is fun, light-hearted and honest,” said Mike’s youngest daughter, Megan Marie Howe, an Ironman competitor and former professional cyclist. “He really makes you feel like you are on that bike with him, helping find the cure to MS, one dollar and mile at a time.”
“When people meet him, they can immediately sense the genuineness in him,” said Michele Coleman, his oldest daughter. “And people know he’s really involved with MS. They feel like, if he’s going to commit himself, then I will too. They trust him.”
More than 1,500 cyclists of all skill levels participated in Bike MS: The Citrus Tour 2011 and raised more than $921,000 for the Mid Florida Chapter, which serves an estimated 70,000 people who are affected by MS. Bike MS: The Citrus Tour 2012 will be held April 21 through April 22 at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Mike said. “People of all skill levels participate. It’s about the comradeship, as well as doing a good deed.”
For more information about Bike MS: The Citrus Tour 2012, call Development Manager Cody Yerian at 813-889-8363, ext. 201; or email
For more information about the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mid Florida Chapter or to make a donation, visit www.nationalmssociety.org/chapters/flc/index.aspx on the Web.
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