Photo by Pete Treperinas
Molly Johnston, left, excitedly greets a participant in the Ballard MS Pub Crawl.

Ballard plays host to eighth annual MS Pub Crawl

By Pete Treperinas

Multiple sclerosis has affected Molly Johnston her entire life.

Her dad, Steve, was diagnosed with MS two years before Johnston was born. She grew up witnessing its effects, both on a loved one living with the condition and on a family as a whole.

“I think MS affects all of us in some way,” said Johnston, who now works for the National MS Society.

Eight years ago, she decided to make a difference.

As a student at Western Washington University, Johnston came up with the idea for the MS Pub Crawl. Saturday night, several bars on Ballard Avenue played host to the eighth annual crawl.

In those eight years, Johnston has seen the event grow immensely. That has translated into more donations, too.

In the first year, Johnston’s event had roughly 50 attendees, many of whom were classmates and friends. They raised $1,500.

Saturday, March 9 in Ballard, there were around 300 people donning orange t-shirts — the color for MS support. They raised roughly $9,000.

Over the course of its eight years, the pub-crawl has raised over $64,000.

Registration for the event was $30, but a raffle during the crawl at BalMar contributes greatly to the fundraising effort as well.

Each year, the Pub Crawl gets bigger.

“It started out just being kind of my social group in college,” Johnston said. “And since then, it’s really grown in terms of people just reaching out to their own networks and inviting people.”

Some of those in attendance Saturday have been there since the beginning. Sterling Cockling, a college friend of Johnston’s, remembers the first pub crawl on Bellingham’s State Street.

“There was a hell of a lot less people,” he said. “Now people look forward to it. Every year, we come back and bring more people.”

Some people found the pub crawl on their own. Johnston received an email the week before the event from a woman diagnosed with MS less than a month ago who planned to attend Saturday.

That’s exactly what Johnston’s intentions are -- to be there for those affected.

“Now, we can have a larger impact where we can include strangers,” she said. “And by the end of the night, we’ll be buddies with her.”

In addition to BalMar, other participating bars were King’s Hardware, The Loft, Hattie’s Hat, and Market Arms. Before choosing Ballard as the crawl’s destination last year, Johnston held it in Fremont.

Switching to the Ballard bar scene gives the event a different feel.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the bars, the managers and owners I get to work with,” Johnston said. “They are just much more enthusiastic about the event and helping out the community, which just makes it easier on my end.”

Lori Mack, a friend of Johnston’s who helps put the crawl together, agreed that Ballard is a perfect destination for the event.

“The bars are a lot friendlier here,” she said. “The atmosphere is more fun and close-knit.”

A typical Saturday night at The Loft is usually pretty busy, owner Dan Murphy said. Oftentimes when The Loft caters to private fundraisers, Murphy devotes the entire upstairs of the bar to those events. But, in addition to his usual Saturday traffic, the MS Pub Crawl’s party was just too big to be contained upstairs.

Murphy believes that the Ballard neighborhood is a good setting for events that give back like the MS Pub Crawl does.

“Ballard has always been a community oriented place and I’m a community oriented person,” he said. “So now that I have a business, it’s fun to do those kinds of things and do whatever we can.”

Around the same time Johnston started the crawl, she formed a team for Seattle’s Walk MS. She named the team “Steve’s Crew” in honor of her father. Steve’s Crew has raised nearly $100,000 since its inception.

With more people and loftier goals each year, the MS Pub Crawl does its best to help find a cure. It also helps having an individual like Johnston who’s driven to end MS.

“She deserves the lifetime achievement award,” Cockling said. “She’s done a lot of good.”

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