BATAVIA — Laura Cudney and family wore matching purple T-shirts as they embarked Saturday morning on the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
They were doing so to honor Laura’s father Robert Harper, who had died Aug. 9 at 81 years old of the illness.
And the emotions were still fresh.
“It’s to support the cause to find a cure for it — to walk in the memory of my father,” Cudney said, accompanied her husband Kevin and their sons Matt and Josh. “We knew wanted to do something, so we saw this on Facebook and thought, ‘What a perfect way.’”
The Cudneys were by no means alone — the walk included about 400 people who had lost a loved one to dementia or were enduring a family member’s slow fade.
The event sought to raise money and bring awareness of the struggle to end the cruel disease. People gathered at Dwyer Stadium beforehand to register, chat, and participate in a short ceremony beforehand.
“The end of Alzheimer’s comes through research,” said event chairwoman Kimberly Arnold. “The money you raise helps fund the most promising studies in the field … One day we will end the disease and we’re going to do it together.”
Most of the walkers knew the disease closely.
Brenda Gillen of Warsaw was among about 25 friends and family members attending for her husband Joe. He was diagnosed in 2015 with early-onset Alzheimer’s and is now in a nursing facility.
Joe was an avid outdoorsman, a skilled carpenter, and likes music, so they wore “Joe’s Jam Band” tie-dye T-shirts as a show of support.
“He liked his music,” Gillen said. “Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, so my daughter came up with the idea last year and we thought it was pretty good.” Participating in the walk is bittersweet. “You think about him not being here,” Gillen said. “Especially with new grandkids — we’ve got a new one there (in a stroller at the walk) and a new one on the way on Monday.” They hope all the people who couldn’t be at this year’s event will be able to attend next year.
“It’s an awful disease,” Gillen said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my first enemy.” The funds raised from the walk are being devoted to a variety of uses.
The Alzheimer’s Association hosts walks during early autumn to support research, respite, support groups and similar use.
This year’s goal was $75,000 and the effort has already exceeded that figure, Arnold said. She noted the support the organization receives from Genesee and Wyoming counties. It’s not just for the people suffering from the disease, she said. It also recognizes the caregivers, family and friends who endure their own suffering, even when their loved one can no longer understand what they’re experiencing.
“They go through multiple grieving processes,” she said. “It’s a struggle. They are caregivers who don’t get paid to do this — they do it through from heart and it’s an exorbitant amount of their time, their energy and their emotional energy.” And that’s why the crowds showed up to walk and raise awareness. “It struck me from the very beginning … They just pitch in, they show up, they raise funds,” Arnold said. “It’s wonderful.”