Thursday, August 18, 2011

SPOTLIGHT: Alile Eldridge

Each week we will be picking members to spotlight to tell their Alzheimer's story and why they are running in this year's New York City marathon. Check in each Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for new updates on who will be spotlighted and get to know your teammates...(each person is picked at random)

When I crossed the finish line of the NYC marathon in 2009 the first thought that entered my mind was “never again!” I was in pain, and drained from running 26.2 miles for the first time in my life. However, I awoke the next morning with the realization that running with team Run to Remember had changed my life forever.

I first learned about team R2R from a friend during a monthly support group meeting. I've attended the same support group for young adult caregivers for nearly 4 years. Prior to joining the group, I couldn't really talk openly about the impact Alzheimer’s disease was having on my family. Discussions often left me feeling frustrated, because people didn't quite understand or

relate to having a parent with a terminal illness. Participating in the group has helped me find a comfort level in talking with others about the disease.

I instantly felt at ease when I met fellow teammates for the first time. We were bonded together by a common thread. It felt incredibly comforting to know that my teammates were more than running partners -- they were people who understood the heartbreak of the disease first hand. My teammates were also people who could help me find the humor and silver lining about Alzheimer’s in ways that nobody else really could. We shared stories, and gave support to one another during our group runs. My teammates ultimately turned into friends whom I’m still connected with today.

Raising funds for the marathon allowed me to share my family’s connection with Alzheimer’s. I was humbled by the financial support of family and friends. The most touching part of the process came in the form of anecdotes I received from donors. Words of encouragement were often followed by stories of personal connections to the disease.

This is my connection to Alzheimer’s and Dementia…

This is why I run…

In 2006 my grandmother passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s at the age of 89. She suffered through the disease for over a decade. In 2010 my Aunt passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s after a long battle with the disease. My father was diagnosed with dementia nearly four years ago, but more recently diagnosed with a specific type of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). LBD shares characteristics with both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Like Alzheimer's, it causes confusion. Like Parkinson's, it can result in rigid muscles, slowed movement, tremors and visual hallucinations.

For my father:

I left home in 2006 to make a life for myself in New York City. I called my parents often to check in, and to update them about the new adventures in my life. Dad often offered advice, and rarely ended a call without encouraging me to “work hard” and “do my best.” It’s hard to believe that just four years ago I was asking my father for advice, and today we are not able to hold a conversation (due to the progression of his dementia). In the spring of 2010 my father moved into a specialized dementia unit of a nursing home, because he requires 24-hour professional care.

For my mother:

My mother shared caregiver responsibilities for my grandmother for over a decade. My father was diagnosed with dementia only a few short months after my grandmother lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. My mother has served as the primary caregiver for my father since the day of his diagnosis. Mom is one of the strongest people I know. Her courage and strength inspire me every day.

For my Sister:

My sister is incredibly supportive, and someone I’ve always been able to talk with throughout the progression of our father’s dementia. She’s been a pillar of strength for our family, especially as dad transitioned out of living at home, and moved into the nursing home.

In memory of Grandma:

Grandma always served as a role model of strength for me as a young child. She had a zest for life, and always seemed to find joy in the simple things. Some of my favorite memories from childhood were spending time with her.

In memory of Aunt Lucille:

She was a prominent figure in my father’s life, and helped to raise him after his father passed away when he was a young child. She was a spunky pint sized woman with a big heart.

Running with team R2R is much more than completing the marathon. Running is about increasing public awareness, and compassion about a disease that impacts millions of people every year. I hope to use my voice to advocate for those who are no longer able to advocate for themselves. I am grateful to be running my 3rd NYC marathon in honor of my father, and in memory of my grandmother and aunt.

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