Ask anyone who participated in Sunday’s New Haven Walk to Defeat ALS at Lighthouse Point Park what impressed them most about the day, and the first thing they’ll mention is the people. Nearly 1100 men, women and children from around Connecticut, and from as far away as Florida, gathered to show their support for family members, friends and neighbors living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
It was the largest crowd ever for the New Haven Walk to Defeat ALS, and the energy of the crowd was nearly palpable. It helped that the day dawned sunny and mild, one of the Connecticut shoreline’s classic fall days, but the sheer numbers of those in attendance undoubtedly reflected the powerful personalities of some amazing individuals and the unforgettable impact they’ve made on their communities.
In the midst of registration, 82 Yale students poured off rented buses to bolster the numbers of “Quince and the Mechanicals”, in honor of team captain and Yale employee Carolyn Haller, who has been among the Chapter’s top fundraising teams in past years.
As we waited for the Walk to kick off, I watched a photographer attempt to herd Brian Savo’s nearly 100 supporters into some semblance of order for a team photo. Wearing distinctive khaki shirts, “Savo’s Soldiers” was truly an army of warriors battling ALS in honor of a much beloved husband, father, community member, and vocal advocate for ALS patients. Brian joined Linda and Bruce Biscoe, team captains for “Bruce’s Buddies”, another of the Chapter’s leading fundraising teams, in the Walk’s ribbon cutting ceremony, amid boisterous cheers and applause from the entire crowd.
Viewing the proceeds from my vantage point at the finish line, I couldn’t help but notice the sea of red shirts dominating the crowd. They were worn by those who knew Paul Sturgess, a popular Branford man who lost his life to ALS at the age of 52. Right up until the day of the Walk, the ranks of “Team Sturge” continued to swell, and well beyond 80 people of all ages marched in his memory.
For all its joy and excitement, the day was bittersweet. The single common denominator bringing everyone together and the impetus for the Walk to Defeat ALS is a terrible disease with no effective treatment and no cure. Those with ALS have a life expectancy of 2-5 years upon diagnosis. Most will eventually need around the clock care, as they lose the ability to walk, speak and feed themselves--all while maintaining complete mental acuity.
Those who walk do so for many reasons. ALS patients see the Walk to Defeat ALS as a means of taking control over a disease that is beyond their control--to feel they are making a difference. Educating the community about ALS and helping to fund research and care services is their way of leaving a meaningful legacy. They are inspired by the hope that a cure will be found for others, even if there won’t be one for them.
Caregivers, friends, and neighbors often feel powerless to help those they love, and starting a Walk team gives them a concrete way to show support and solidarity.
And, as Brian Savo, the ALS Association Connecticut Chapter Champion for 2012, says, “I walk because I want to give other patients the courage and positive attitude to fight ALS”. We hope you’ll walk, too; please join us at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain on Saturday, September 29th, at 10 am for the next Walk to Defeat ALS. Or visit web.alsa.org/NewHaven to make a donation and help us create a world without ALS.