Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spotlight - Gene Albertelli

U.S. Army - Alaska
I am running the New York City Marathon in memory and to honor my Dad.

He passed away in January from Alzheimer’s just a month shy of 84 years old.

His diagnosis took a long time to be labeled, but there were signs.   We, my family and I, were confused by his behavior.  He had a way of hiding the fact that he wasn’t well.  Memory loss wasn’t the only issue; there were subtle changes to his personality, which, in hindsight should have alerted us to ask more questions.  But not being familiar with dementia and Alzheimer’s we weren’t aware of all the possibilities.

My Dad was in the U.S. Army stationed in Alaska during the Korean War.   He was a Firefighter and Lieutenant of the New York Fire Department for 30 years.
Coming from a broken family he had a rough start to the beginning of his life.  He seldom spoke about his parents to my siblings and me, but the disease opened a window that allowed him to share his anger and disappointment with his parents’ behavior, lack of love and lack of parenting skills.   I remember sitting in his yard a few summers back, just the two of us, and he told me stories of living in poverty and how he was separated from his siblings and lived with different aunts and uncles.

1960-61 – My Dad is the third from the left
My Dad was on his high school basketball team that played in the local finals at Madison Square Garden. They won! While the Alzheimer's progressed, many nights we would look at his high school basketball team photo from Newtown High School in Corona, NY, 1948. The photo was black and white and it was taken outside of the school.   He would remember some of his teammate's names.   I was thankful as all of his teammates had signed their names in pencil on the back of the photo behind where they stood.  This allowed me to assist him in remembering names which made him smile.  There was a light or a comfort in his eyes when he reminisced about certain times of his past.

We would look together at both sides of the photo (their faces on one side and their names on the other).  It was a traditional team photo, basketball uniforms with numbers on their singlets and shorts, the tall guys in the back, and the shorter ones in the front and the coach on the left or right.  He'd talk about his teammates and their shooting, blocking, basketball skills and he’d wonder where they are now and then he would ask, “You remember these guys, right?"  

I would gently say, "No Dad, I am a little younger than all of you."   He accepted that.    

Once, twice, three times I tried to explain time.  Then I learned to speak in generalizations.  Have you ever tried to explain time?  Think about it… time.

My Dad had a great sense of humor: dry wit, sarcasm and often with comments which should have been stage whispers, but weren’t.  He enjoyed laughing, music, old movies, good food, and being with his family. During his battle with Alzheimer’s his humor and sarcasm remained.  Laughter is good for the soul.

This will be my 8th New York City Marathon.  In the past, my Dad would come out on the course as a spectator.   For several years, he would park his car near the firehouse where he worked in the 1970s (Engine 238 at the turn of Greenpoint Ave and McGuinness Blvd).  It is just before the Pulaski Bridge, the halfway mark.  He'd bring a folding beach chair (with white and blue webbing) and he'd set up his chair on the island on McGuinness Boulevard at the approach to the bridge.   I remember the last time I saw him there it was probably 2009 or 2010.  He had been standing and was moving towards the chair to sit. He was moving slowly, gingerly, and he reached for the arm of the chair behind him.   I saw him before he saw me. 

When he saw me, he stood up and we exchanged a few caring interested phrases..."thanks for coming"…"How do you feel?"…“Great weather”…“you’re looking strong”…”you’re not too cold?”

I asked, “Were you just talking to a runner.”  "Yes...cheering for them.  It’s amazing to watch all these people!  ALL these people!”  He seemed astonished at the number of runners.  I smiled and hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek and said with a smile, "I better go; I’ve got a race to finish".   He smiled and hugged me back.    I ran up the Pulaski Bridge.  I didn’t know that would be the last time he’d participate in the marathon.

The next time I ran the marathon I felt the loss of him not being there.  

Each of our training runs these last few weeks, when we approached that intersection I pictured that moment in my mind: my Dad wearing his dark blue jacket, grey plaid driving cap and sun glasses as he was about to sit down in the beach chair on the island on McGuinness Boulevard.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spotlight - Jane Stoddard

 I am running to raise funds to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease.

On March 12th, my father lost his more than a decade long battle with Alzheimer's disease.  During his final month, I was helpless and did the only thing I could think of to honor him and to help brace myself for the inevitable loss to come - I applied to run the NY Marathon in his name for the Alzheimer's Association.

Less than two weeks after his passing, I found out I received an entry.  On November 1st, I will be running the marathon in his name celebrating his triumphant run of the same race 20 years ago. 

My father was an avid runner for the majority of his life who grew up in Boston, went to college at Northeastern before graduate school at UPenn.  Running marathons became a monumental part of his life in his 50s and 60s, traveling to Colorado, California, Arizona, Las Vegas, Florida, New York, etc. to run a race in as many states as he could.

He inspired my sister and I to run, register for races and meet him to go running. Even in his 60s, his pace was always faster than mine. I distinctly remember our last runs together with his illness looming in the background, he still loved to go out for a run.  And he was ALWAYS faster than me, regardless of age.  As I begin to train for November's race, I remember vividly travelling to NYC for the 1995 marathon to cheer him on during a bitter cold day.  20 years later, I hope I can do his record justice this November by running with grace, dignity and drive. There is no doubt he will be with me every step of the way, cheering me on and pushing me to the finish line.
Nothing would make me happier than to help raise the funds and awareness to find a cure for this crippling disease by running this year's NY Marathon in his name. I hope you will join me in honoring his life and making any size contribution you can to help get a step closer to a cure. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Spotlight - Amanda Munoz

Alzheimer's Disease has had a significant impact on my family, especially my dad.

My dad grew up in Manila, Philippines and is the youngest of six children. His mother and two of his brothers developed and eventually passed away from Alzheimer's Disease.

My Lola (grandma) was a sturdy woman with thick hair. As a child, I remember her long braid as a salt and pepper rope. At 22, My dad left the Philippines to attend graduate school in the U.S.; he didn't realize it at the time, but he would never live at home again. When his mom got sick, I think my dad felt guilty for being gone so long. She didn't know who he was for the last 10 years she was alive.

My Tito (uncle) Eddie was a lawyer and former General Manager of the Manila International Airport, which was useful as a frequent foreign visitor. I never waited in customs as a kid. He had a roaring life of the party voice (just like my dad) and political ambitions. In his mid-50s, Tito Eddie started developing symptoms for Alzheimer's Disease. He came to the U.S. and New York doctors confirmed his diagnosis. His remaining years were hard for his wife and adult children, two daughters and a son, who watched him shrink before their eyes.

Tito Ony (short for Tony) developed Alzheimer's Disease in his 70s. He loved cars, especially his tricked out vintage VW Bug. He was also a skillful dancer, having mastered the cha-cha, mambo and tango. Tito Only left behind a wife, son and two daughters.

I run in memory of my Lola, Tito Eddie, and Tito Ony. I run too for my dad, aunts, uncles and cousins for what they have been through.

And I run for the people I've met on this team and the loved ones they run for. The marathon will be a great day because there is such a positive force behind us all.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spotlight - Elizabeth Breckenridge

On November 1, 2015 I will be running the New York City Marathon in honor of my grandmother, Elizabeth Schweizer, who passed away in March of this year from complications of Alzheimer's.  Grandma Lizzie received her Alzheimer's diagnosis about 3 years ago.  Grandma had the most beautiful blue eyes, made the best tuna salad, always let me have dessert (or two) and never had a shortage of red lipstick in her purse. 

 My Grandpa Bert, Lizzie's husband of 69 years, was also recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Together they had 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.  Their 70th wedding anniversary would have been this coming November 27th.

Losing my grandma was very hard and about a month after she passed away I started looking for things I could do to help me through the grieving process.  Exercise has always been a great stress reliever so I decided that applying to run the NYC Marathon with the Alzheimer's Association would not only help me grieve but also do something to help others who have been impacted by this disease.

Fast forward, here we are a little more than 10 days away from the race and I can truly say that this experience has been life changing.  The support from the Alzheimer's Association and team has been amazing----and a shout out to my friends, family and colleagues who have encouraged me and helped me  to reach and exceed my fundraising goal, I couldn't have done this without you.  
Team, we got this!  Can't wait to see everyone next week!

This is for Grandma Lizzie and Grandpa Bert!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Spotlight - Sarah Ferguson

My mom Nancy always lived her life for those around her. She cherished her husband and her children above all else, dedicating herself to their happiness and wellbeing. That has not changed. As she's progressed through several years of living with Semantic Dementia--a form of Frontotemporal Dementia-- almost everything else has.
My siblings and I first noticed changes in our mom after our father's death in 2005. He was her world, and so lingering mood changes and memory lapses seemed normal. Over the coming years, she continued to change gradually. She became more settled in her routines and started repeating phrases and words. But minor memory lapses, like her mood changes, were easy to write off as depression, age, or was it maybe imbalanced nutrition? When we finally decided that what was happening would not respond to a quick fix, we made an appointment at the Stanford memory clinic, where the diagnosis, at least, was quick. 

In the three years since her diagnosis, our mom has continued to change. Conversations now are one-sided, names and faces have slipped from her mind, and she is firmly set in her routines. Fortunately for us, as recognition of most of those around her has been lost, she remembers her children as vividly as ever. She greets us with delight, sings us songs, and lights up when we call her. These moments are bittersweet, as we know that it is only a matter of time before that, too, will change.

I'm running with Athletes to End Alzheimers because I believe in what they do. My family has benefited from their services. I've called their 24-hour hotline in moments of crisis, and I have used their caregiver resources as my siblings and I struggled to deal with a challenging diagnosis. Most of all, though, I'm running because I have hope that through the research they help support into the causes of and potential treatments for Alzheimers and other dementias, that other families will not have to suffer the pain of watching the woman who raised them suffer the confusing, frustrating, and heartbreaking process of losing her mind to dementia.