Sunday, August 12, 2012

Spotlight: Leslie Stahl

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 Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for new updates on who will be spotlighted and get to know your teammates...(each person is picked at random) 

My grandmother, Omi as my sister and I called her, was a survivor. When she was thirteen years old she sat down at her family’s piano in her home in Hersbruck, Germany and woke up hours later buried under rubble after her house was bombed at the end of World War II.

Her sister and nephew died in the bombing, but rescuers found her alive and saved her. Years later she met my Opa and they were married. In 1957 they moved to the United States like so many couples before them, hoping to start a family and give their children a better life than they had left behind in Germany.

Omi was a survivor and also a caretaker her entire life. She very much reminded me of Snow White when I was a child because she was always rescuing and nursing a stray or sick animal and also always humming a song to herself. It seemed as if birds and rabbits and cats and dogs flocked to her. She was always patient and always kind with animals. I think she found solace in their company.

I have fond memories of her tucking me into bed, driving me to dance practice and dropping by our house just to stock our freezer with ice cream. She was so imaginative and so supportive. I think she believed, like I did, that I would grow up to realize my childhood dream of being a ballerina if I wanted to.

I didn’t quite grow up to be a ballerina. I ended up a runner, which in many ways is better I think because it often reminds me of her. Running, and training for a marathon especially, takes patience, courage and perseverance – all qualities that Omi possessed.

She started her own interior design business in the 1980s that she ran with a friend up until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about seven years ago. My sister and I didn’t know she was sick. She had sworn my Dad to secrecy. But eventually the woman I remembered so fondly, the independent, sweet Omi I loved, started to fade away.

When my sister and I would return from college we suddenly saw the change in her. We were moving on and growing up, but she was faltering. She was confused, delusional, sad and sometimes angry. In every way imaginable she was the opposite of herself.

 I miss her. But when I run I sometimes feel like I’m with her. She loved the outdoors and felt most at ease when she was out taking walks and wandering in the woods. Living in the city it’s hard for me to get out onto trails, but I still feel the most at peace when I’m outside running even if it’s among skyscrapers instead of trees.

She died this February, and it was something I had prepared for in my mind but not in my heart. When I discovered the Run 2 Remember team I was overcome with a mix of emotions. I was happy to find a way to support a cause that’s so dear to my heart in a way that I’m passionate about, but I was also sad that I have a real reason to run for it. I look forward to the day when no one has to experience what I had to experience with Omi, or what my Dad, as her caretaker, went through. I can’t wait to run in celebration because we’ve found a cure. Until that day I’ll keep running because it’s one of my passions, and I’ll finish this marathon for Omi and for me. I know that had she been here in body and mind that she would be proud. I’ll have to settle for having her in spirit and for having the privilege of running with so many people like me who have lost or are losing their loved ones to this disease.

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