Organizers gear up for annual ALS fundraising Walk

  • Jun. 10, 2015 2:42 p.m.

The annual Red Deer Walk for ALS is set for June 20th at Great Chief Park.

Those interested in taking part are encouraged to head down for registration at 9 a.m. with the walk to kick off at 10 a.m. Funds raised will go toward client support

services in Alberta and national ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) research.

According to the ALS Society of Alberta, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a progressive neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed. Everyday, two or three Canadians die of the disease.

ALS can strike anyone. It most often occurs between the ages of 40 and 70 but can also occur in older and younger adults, and rarely in teenagers. ALS is usually fatal within two to five years of diagnosis.

The symptoms and the area of the body first affected can vary from person to person.

Typically ALS involves muscle weakness, fatigue, wasting, stiffness, loss of tone, cramping, twitching, and hyper- and hypo-reflexion. The onset of the disease may occur in nerves associated with muscles of the upper or lower limbs, the throat or upper chest area.

In rare cases, the muscles involved in breathing are first affected. These symptoms can result in decreased coordination in the hands, tripping and falling, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing, speaking or breathing.

The upcoming walk marks the 12th annual, said Michelle Parker, co-chair along with Deborah Hansen of the annual Red Deer Walk for ALS.

About 250 attended the event last year. And it’s proven to be a tremendous success. Parker said that over the past several years, in the neighbourhood of $100,000 has been raised at each walk.

That goes a long ways in both promoting awareness about ALS and in providing additional funding towards research into finding a cure.

Of course, awareness of ALS reached unprecedented heights with the incredibly popular Ice Bucket Challenge last year, which saw people from all walks of life have an ice-cold bucket of water poured on their heads in a bid to raise funds for ALS research across the globe.

“Communities came together for a common cause without even being emotionally attached to it – they just jumped onboard and realized how important it is.”

In 2014, more than 260,000 Canadians dumped a bucket of ice over their heads and made a donation through the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s was also important as knowledge of the disease in general isn’t always very well known. And as generations come and go, fewer people know who Lou Gehrig – the famed baseball play who died of the disease in 1941 – even is.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge helped to grow awareness – people were talking about it more than ever, and people who have never known anyone affected by ALS were talking about it,” said Parker.

Meanwhile, according to ALS Society of Canada, it’s a costly disease with direct and indirect costs of between $150,000 – $250,000 over the course of the illness.

Funds raised in the Red Deer walk also support those in the nearby region with ALS as well. “We do have families that come from Three Hills, Drumheller, Delburne and Rocky Mountain House so we are stretched right across the central area of the province.”

Parker first got involved with the ALS Society about 12 years ago. A friend’s mother had passed away from ALS, and at the same time, Parker found she had some extra time on her hands that she wanted to devote to a community cause.

“My friend said, ‘Would you be interested in helping us with the walk?’ I said sure no problem. And I’m still here,” she added with a laugh.

“The reason for it is that I’ve met so many families who are just so special. If you go to the walk, you are usually either a family member who has lost someone to ALS or you know someone who is currently going through it.”

There is a powerful sense of connection amongst those who gather each year for the event, she said. “You don’t even have to say it – you just feel it.” Besides the fundraising part, it’s also really a wonderful opportunity for folks just to get together and enjoy the day. “We just want families to know they aren’t alone. We try to build a real sense of community.”

For more information, check out www.walkforals.ca.

editor@reddeerexpress.com

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