About six years ago, Patty Byrd worked with a young woman with multiple sclerosis. “She had such a great attitude–she was so funny about everything, even though she had to take a cocktail of medications just to function,” says Byrd, a banking officer for BSC Services in Philadelphia. “Her disease was so unpredictable. She was planning her niece’s First Holy Communion party—she was devoted to her—and the day of the event her bowels and bladder stopped working. But she never lost her great attitude.”
Then, it seemed, everywhere Byrd went, she saw posters and pamphlets for the MS Society’s Challenge Walk. “It was 50 miles in three days and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that. Oh, no!’ I was still smoking and about 60 lbs heavier than I am now. But I decided to tell people I was going to do it so I would be obligated. But they all said, ‘Are you nuts?’ Maybe, I said, but I’m going to do it.”
And she did it. It took a lot of training (and some weight loss), but Byrd not only walked the 50 miles that year, she’s walked it every year since, picking up other brave strollers on the way. “My second year I had a hodgepodge team with no name. Then the third year, something happened. It was a chilly day in spring. I was about to go out walking and I put on my shoes and realized they had no insoles. I thought to myself, ‘These are ratty shoes.’”
If you’re a fan of the popular local Irish group, Blackthorn, (Byrd calls herself “an addict) you can probably guess what happened next. “Ratty Shoes” is the name of the group’s 2001 CD and a catchy paean to the magical powers of comfortable old “ratty shoes” that can take you anywhere you want to go. And what CD was Byrd listening to when she made the observation about her own sneakers?
Of course, it was fate. And it prompted Byrd to shoot off an email to the group, asking if she could use the name for her walking team. “They said sure, and they even donated merchandise for raffles,” says Bryd. “Then, last year, (lead singer) Mike Boyce kind of realized, ‘Hey, they’re not going away,’ so the group has really gotten behind us in a big way.”
On Wednesday, July 11, when the band performs at the Pennypack Park Bandshell, Welsh Road and Rowland Avenue in Philadelphia, they’ll be selling raffle tickets to help raise money for the team (each person needs to come up with $1,500 in pledges to participate in the walking event). They’ll be selling them at every performance till August 11, when a drawing will be held at The Bolero Resort in Wildwood, where the band is performing. The prize: A complete package (accomodations, food, and tickets) for four to attend Blackthorn’s (huge) part of Wildwood’s Irish Weekend, September 21-23, at The Bolero. They’re also donating $2 from every sale of Blackthorn merchandise from July 11 to August 11 (buying a CD or a t-shirt will automatically get you a raffle ticket, which is also available without a merch purchase for $2 each). For more information and a schedule of band appearances, go to www.irishthing.com.
You may also run into band members on Sunday, July 15, when Team Ratty Shoes holds an MS Benefit at Brittingham’s, 640 E. Germantown Avenue, Lafayette Hill, featuring a host of performers including Random Blonde, Raymond McGroary, Allison Barber, and, possibly, Paul Moore, the co-author (with Blackthorn’s John and Mike Boyce) of “Ratty Shoes,” co-founder of the group, and currently with the band, Paddy’s Well.
Doors open at noon and the Irish frivolity goes on till 4 (Oliver McElhone appears on stage at 5, so you might want to stay). And it’s all in a good cause.
“We have a great team,” says Byrd. They are Tom Wyatt of Duncannon, PA; Christopher Burden of Warminster, whose wife, Michele, has MS; Leslie Bell Moll of Pottstown and Lorraine Porcellini of Philadelphia, who both work for WXPN Radio. “But it’s more than the walkers, our team includes and army of other people who support us, like Blackthorn,” says Byrd.
They’re living proof that there is some magic in those old “ratty shoes.”