Dec 102013
 
warrior

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.”

Laying Tracks

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.

Media Attention

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.

Fearless Fun

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.

The Cause

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…

What Next?

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.

 

Sep 242013
 
single flower walk

The first change I noticed in my dad was his inability to write out checks.  I stopped by his office one day, and he was sitting at his desk with the checkbook open.  Several balled-up checks were scattered on his desk. He was slow to speak, but finally admitted that he could not write out the check correctly. On one check, he had transposed the numbers for the amount to be paid.  On another check, he had attempted to write his name on the “payee” line, but the scrawl did not look like his signature.  He was so frustrated, confused and scared. This was so unlike him—a man who had always been so confident, organized and in control. This was just the beginning of many changes in his personality and behavior.

My dad had Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that robs the mind. It also breaks the hearts of family members who helplessly watch as their loved one slips away.

Fred Is Not ForgottenAs time went on, my dad, who had always been an impeccable dresser, no longer seemed to care about his appearance. He would mix prints with plaids, and chose to wear the same red sweater every day, even though he had a closet full of clothes. Eventually, he had to go into a 24-hour nursing facility, as he would wander at all times of night and became combative.

It was devastating for family and friends when we realized that he had slipped into his own little, confused world and did not recognize any of us. At times he mistook me for his sister or his wife.  Later, he ignored everyone but my brother, and their discussions were limited to talking about the family business. Eventually, all of his visitors were greeted by a blank stare.  As his journey came to an end, his muscles became rigid.  He could no longer sit up or walk.  He died in a fetal position, three years after the initial diagnosis.

His bout with the disease was relatively short in comparison to that of many victims, but his condition, decline and death have had a lasting effect on me. Twenty-five years later, every time I forget a word needed to complete a sentence or forget where I put something, I fear I may have the same fate.  Since his death, more attention has been given to Alzheimer’s; however, more attention is needed. It is now the sixth leading cause of death and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

On October 13, 2013, I will Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Tower City Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

I will walk in memory of my dad, Fred Grair, Sr., and other family members who have been affected by Alzheimer’s.

walk to end crowd

I will walk to allay my fear of contracting the disease.

I will walk on behalf of the more than 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s.

I will walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s awareness, support, care and research.

I will walk for you.

Today, more than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer’s.  If you have not been impacted in some one by this terrible disease, consider yourself fortunate.  Soon, no one will be untouched.  Please walk with me to end Alzheimer’s.

About the blog author:  Stephanie Grair Ashford is steering committee member and team captain for the 2013 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio.  You can donate to her team, Fred’s Not Forgotten.

This column originally appeared in the Sun News.

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