I love participating in the annual Walks to End Alzheimer’s, but let’s face it – walking can be boring. For my first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2012, I raised more than $1,500. One year later, my donations netted nearly $9,000 for my local Alzheimer’s Association through a fun and creative tribute to my brother, Kevin.
Prior to the summer of 2013, my summer hobby became the campaign “Bobbleheads United to End Alzheimer’s.” I collected my own and also asked people to send me their stadium bobbleheads; for each bobblehead I received, I would in turn make a donation to my Walk effort. I was in the midst of my 2012 tour when I received the news that my brother had passed away.
Distance had unfortunately separated us for much of our adult lives, and I never had the experience of riding the rails with my brother as an adult. Kevin would travel the world seeking thrills on all kinds of roller coasters, from the modern steel hyper-coasters of today to classic “woodies” from the mid to late 20th century. At Kevin’s memorial service, the topic of coasters was discussed at length. It was at that time that I decided that in my bobblehead chasing travels, I would ride as many roller coasters as I could find along the way as a tribute to Kevin. As fall and winter set in, a proverbial light bulb was lit. What if, in preparation for the 2013 Walk, I set out to ride as many roller coasters as I could, and see if friends and family would pledge a per-ride donation? I began planning my new summer tour and fundraising effort: “Roller Coaster Crawls to End Alzheimer’s.”
I set a goal of 100 roller coaster rides in 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I hit every theme park within a six-hour drive from Rochester NY, from the big corporate parks to the smaller, family-run parks. I purchased season passes to several theme parks, but I quickly came to the realization that this might be a costly endeavor. My friend Marian had experience in professional fundraising, and she helped me contact the smaller parks to spread my mission. She even established a great relationship with Six Flags Great Escape. Meanwhile, the pledges started rolling in. My friends stepped up to the plate, with pledges ranging from 25¢ to $2.00 per ride! I had to get over any fears I may have had, suck it up, and ride.
On each ride, my brother rode with me in spirit. In fact, Kevin’s Facebook account was still active for some time after his passing, so I was actually able to “tag” him as being with me on virtually every ride. Although this was mostly a symbolic action, there were several instances throughout my travels that I know he was with me… if not physically, spiritually.
As the tour began to pick up speed, Marian and I had reached out to media in the cities I would be visiting. A local news outlet expressed interest in my mission, and reporter Seth Voorhees and I spent much of the day filming my rides and talking about my brother, his plight and the scourge that is Alzheimer’s. The 2 ½ minute piece they aired was a hit! Calls began coming in with new pledges and well wishes. The story caught the eye of Sal Fantauzzo, founder of Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria, a large chain of pizzerias in the greater Rochester region. Sal was so touched by the story that he offered to match all of my pledges at the end of the tour. The news story and matching donations from Salvatore’s provided a catalyst for even more growth, and I was back on the road again.
I plotted out the rest of the tour, conveniently scheduling ride #100 for August 21st on Coney Island’s “Cyclone”. This ride would be especially significant as not only would it be the ride that fulfilled my goal of 100 rides, but it was also the last coaster Kevin rode before his passing. In the end, I actually rode 122 roller coasters in as many days, including:
- Seabreeze Amusement Park on the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester
- Six Flags New England on Memorial Day weekend
- Waldameer Park in Erie, PA. When people ask “What was your favorite roller coaster of the tour?” I immediately respond: “Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer Park.”
- Rye Playland, Knoebel’s Amusement Park, DelGrosso’s, Six Flags Great Adventure
- Lakemont Park, a small amusement park with the prestige of having the “Oldest Operating Roller Coaster in the World”, Leap the Dips, a landmark dating back to 1902
- Lake Compounce and Quassy Amusement Park
- Morey’s Piers in the Wildwoods, NJ, boasting three ocean side piers of entertainment
- Sylvan Beach, where I enjoyed the “Galaxi” for ride #95
Hershey Park is where I had the strongest feeling that Kevin was accompanying me on the tour. He was passionate about the Grateful Dead, so it seemed like more than coincidence that the music in the park that day was Jerry Garcia material seemingly direct from his collection.
My pledges were all based on the “honor system”; I cannot tell you how impressed I am with my donors for their willingness to fulfill their pledges. Some apologized for not contributing “enough” due to their particular situations. I assured these folks that any amount would be appreciated by those facing Alzheimer’s.
This cause is passionately burned into my personality now. I don’t think that I shall ever stop raising funds and awareness for this cause. The things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen are easily the best things I’ve ever done in my 52 years on this earth. But I still miss my brother. A lot…
How about a 16-hour roller coaster marathon for Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day on June 21, 2014? Sure… why not? Two of my planned stops are Cedar Point in Ohio and Six Flags Great America in Illinois for the new coaster “Goliath”!
Did you Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2013? Leave a comment about your experience and why you Walk – or ride, like Michael!
About the blog author: Michael joined more than 400,000 others by Walking to End Alzheimer’s in 2013. He walked in memory of his brother Kevin J. Moran who succumbed to early on-set Alzheimer’s at age 54 after a three-year battle with the disease. A card-carrying ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) member, fun-loving Kevin traveled the world riding new and vintage rollercoasters, and Michael followed suit. Share your stories from the 2013 Walk season on Facebook and Twitter and on ALZConnected.