Lance Hayashi, Mike Miller and Jeff Leer. All three have participated in the ALS Doubleday bike ride.
Major League baseball player Lou Gehrig played first base for the New York Yankees back in the 1930s and 40s but these days Gehrig’s name seems to be more synonymous with the disease that was named after him than his baseball career.
Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, known by its medical name Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Basically, the muscles receive no nourishment and start to atrophy when the neurons can no longer communicate with the brain. Patients motor skills slowly begin to fail making it impossible to move, swallow or even breath.
According to the ALS Association an average of 15 people are newly diagnosed with ALS every day— more than 5,600 people per year. As many as 30,000 Americans may currently be affected by ALS and two in every 100,000 people die from this traumatic disease.
Cavelero Mid High Teacher Jeff Leer, along with Cavelero staff member Margaret Browder have both lost their spouses to ALS and teacher Timmijo Forbes lost her brother, Mark Reiman to the disease. Before his death, Reiman started a bike ride in Skagit Valley called the ALS Doubleday to help bring awareness to the disease and to raise funds for research.
“I first rode six years ago with my wife Marilyn as her family had been affected by the genetic form of the disease and had lost nine family members to it,” Leer explained. “Five years ago my wife could not ride as she was showing symptoms, four years ago she was the guest speaker at the Saturday night dinner and was in the later stages of the disease. She died three months later, 14 months after diagnosis.”
Because of the extreme disability that comes with the disease the lives of every family member are affected. Not only do they become caregivers but families must watch those they love descend into a life of pain. Their homes must be transformed and many times the illness progresses very quickly.
“ALS is extremely difficult for the families affected by it. Homes must be remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair and the patients eventually need around the clock care,” Leer said.
Leer, along with several other teachers, will be participating in this year’s ALS Doubleday Bike Ride on July 27 and 28. He has put together a team in honor of his wife Marilyn and they are currently raising money at the school. The students were asked to help raise at least $4,000 and if they did the staff involved would shave their heads. They ended up raising over $5,500.
“The Leadership Class decided to eliminate all of our other fundraising efforts this year so that we could focus entirely on this one. ALS has personally affected many people within our Cavelero community, and we wanted to show our love and support for these members of our Cavelero family,” Leadership teacher Stuart Chaffee said. “It’s also very important for our students to learn the importance of community service, and with several members of our faculty being willing to shave their heads, this was a fun way to go about doing that.”
At an assembly on Friday, April 26, Leer and the rest of his team at the school did just that!
“The money we raise not only goes to research but helps those families directly,” Leer said. “Adolescents are often very self-centered. This fundraiser gives them a chance to see outside themselves and do something for others. The students here at Cavelero have been so supportive of this effort and it makes them feel good about themselves by helping others.”
Leer and the other cyclists involved continue to train and fundraise for the upcoming ride this summer but they also prepare for what might happen to their families in the future.
“There is no cure for the disease. Research is our only hope. My children have a 50 percent chance of getting the disease,” Leer said. “Life is about letting go of the things you can’t control and holding on to the things we can control. I don’t know what the future holds but I can spread awareness of ALS and work to raise money to support families affected and for research. Research has made some serious inroads in the last few years, especially with the SOD1 gene that affects my family.”
For now Leer and his co-workers, family and friends will do all that they can to help support more research for the cure of this disease and they will continue to raise awareness where they can.
If you would like to donate to Marilyn’s Army you can make checks payable to ALS Evergreen Chapter and drop them off at Cavelero Mid High School or go online to http://webwa.alsa.org/site/PageNavigator/WA_Bike_homepage and search for Marilyn’s Army and support one of the riders.