Walking: it's a basic activity that most of us take for granted. The motto of The Walk to Defeat ALS is, “because you can.” Some can’t, including some of the thousands of Americans living with the devastating condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I have seen the devastation this fatal neuromuscular disease leaves in its path first-hand, and "devastating" is a fitting adjective.
My father deteriorated for about a year and a half before being diagnosed with ALS. Two weeks later, he was gone. Once an avid golfer with a single digit handicap, he quickly weakened to a point he could only play a few holes before running out of energy and could barely hit a ball a hundred yards. Eventually, he couldn’t walk at all. In the end, my dad was upset to learn he had a disease for which there is no cure, but in a strange way, he found relief in knowing the deterioration of his golf game was related to his health and not his ability. That relief and a different perspective are the only things a diagnosis of ALS gave him. It’s otherwise a disease that takes and takes. It can quickly rob a once vibrant person of their strength, their speech, their mobility, their ability to eat and eventually to breathe.
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s a neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes motor neurons to degenerate and as motor neurons die, patients lose the ability to control muscle movement. Patients in the later stages of ALS may become completely paralyzed.
According to the ALS Association, more than 30,000 Americans living today will die from ALS. Without a cure, an ALS diagnosis means a life expectancy of two to five years. Besides the physical and emotional effects, it can also take a financial toll. The ALS Association says care for a person with the disease can cost up to $200,000 dollars a year.
This year’s annual Austin area Walk to Defeat ALS is taking place at Mueller Lake Park on Saturday November 12th. Last year more than 1,400 people walked in support of and in memory of people affected by the disease. Their efforts raised more than $160,000. The money goes towards research and to help offset some of the care expenses of South Texas residents suffering from ALS.
So the ALS South Texas Chapter wants you to come out and Walk to Defeat ALS, "because you can." To sign up or for this year’s Austin walk and for information on similar events around the country, go to walktodefeatals.org.