First of all, I am not an Alzheimer’s Researcher. I am what was often referred to as an “other,” meaning I have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease. My wife is a genetics researcher and a colleague of Dr. Bruce Lamb. Bruce sent a fundraising email to my wife, she forwarded it to me thinking I would “sign the petition and donate $50.” Instead I emailed Bruce, explained my story and asked to join the team Cleveland Rocks. Boy was she surprised that evening!
On day 2, our team consisted of me, Dr. Bruce Lamb and Dr. William Lynch. Both Bruce and Bill were more experienced riders than I; I actually bought my road bike the last week of July. Not that I wasn’t active before joining the team, but I was training for a sprint triathlon, not a long distance ride. Needless to say, I began hill and endurance training immediately.
I am riding in honor of my Grandpa Darrah, who died with Alzheimer’s disease. I found that my training rides and my ride from Cleveland to Pittsburgh were spent thinking of my grandpa and grandparents in general. All of my grandparents have passed but I feel very lucky to have known them well. My grandpa Darrah was more than just a grandpa; he was also a friend and roommate. I lived with him for almost seven years, and ended up being one of his primary caregivers.
Our day 2 from Boardman, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was rather uneventful, except for the constant rolling hills. In some ways I am glad that Bruce and Bill were often a little ahead of me, because I was often talking or chanting to myself. I found myself saying “this is not suffering.” I remembered my grandpa’s anger and frustration as he would try to communicate his needs and wants but couldn’t. I often whispered on the toughest hills “this is only one hill” thinking grandpa and others with Alzheimer’s had years of “tough hills.” I remembered coming home one day to find my grandma’s silver flatware in the garbage, when I removed it he said “but I have a lot of that” referring to the normal silverware. It was these memories and occasional chanting that got me through the constant hills.
All of these memories and the hills made the ride a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, in addition to a physical one. Bruce and Bill were wonderful to ride with; they were supportive and helped to keep things light. The road crew of Melanie and Glen were awesome; they seemed to anticipate our every need and I always felt safe even with semis and dump trucks barreling down on me. I am a little disappointed that I never got to try the famous Peanut Butter Fold Overs…oh well, maybe in D.C. I think my favorite part was the people we met along the way either at the hotel, a rest stop or at the signing event. Their appreciation, stories and personal dedication truly made this a special experience that I will never forget.
- Michael Darrah