Zimmerman honored for work with MS, says he’ll return to Nats in 2021

Editor’s Note: Dave Johnson emceed the Ambassador’s Ball and revealed his own MS diagnosis in October 2019

As he looks forward to another World Series pursuit with the Washington Nationals next season, Ryan Zimmerman is a champion again.

Zimmerman, and his wife, Heather, received the Champion Award Wednesday at the 42nd annual Ambassadors Ball to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Zimmermans were selected for the award in recognition for all they do for MS patients and their families through their ziMS Foundation.

Ryan and his family established the foundation in 2006 as a way to honor his mother, Cheryl, who was diagnosed with MS in 1995 after experiencing almost 10 years of symptoms. Although now confined to a wheel chair, she is not defined by her disability.

“I have never, in all the years that I’ve known Ryan, known her to complain or take it out on anyone else when she’s having a bad day,” said Heather Zimmerman. “It is really inspiring to see how she lives with this disease every day and just is able to sort of power on and power through her daily life.”

Cheryl Zimmerman continues to have an impact on the dally life of her son.

“One bad day of MS is way tougher than baseball could ever be,” said Ryan Zimmerman. “When I go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, which I’ve done many times, it’s not as bad as you think it is. She’s always been great about being positive and keeping things in perspective. When I do complain, she’s probably the first one to tell me to clean it up.”

The Zimmermans have made a huge impact on both the MS community and research progress, with over $3.5 million raised. The MS Kids Camp is one program they have championed in partnership with the National MS Society.

While at camp, kids talk about how MS affects their lives in a safe and understanding environment while dispelling myths and fears about the disease. They spend time with a neurologist who can answer their questions and bond with other kids facing common issues.

“More than anything, the camp gives them a break from their daily routine and give them something to think about other than maybe their sick parent,” said Heather Zimmerman. “They’re able to just come out, enjoy the day at the baseball field, watch a game, eat some hot dogs and hang out with other kids that are, unfortunately, experiencing the same thing and it gives them a sense of support.”

Ryan and Heather Zimmerman held up their Champion Award on a webcam, as Ryan joked it was his “first virtual award.” Even though concern over COVID-19 turned the Ambassadors Ball in to a virtual event, over $305,000 was raised for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

After helping the Nationals win the World Series last year, Zimmerman signed a one-year contract to return for this season but decided not to play because of his newborn son at home and Cheryl’s compromised immunity from MS. Zimmerman, however, plans to be back next year.

“I could not let it end this way,” said Zimmerman. “I missed it a lot this year. It was a tough decision but the right decision. Not that I ever took it for granted, but watching the game confirmed to me how much I still want to play. I still have the fire in me.”

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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