By Alexander Germanis
“Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him…”
~ Author Mark Lawrence
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia — a despicable disease that attacks a person’s memories, personality, behavior, and concurrently everything that makes them who they are. But, Alzheimer’s does not just destroy the person who has it, it has the power to fragment families and damage friendships as well.
There is hope, however — hope held by the millions of people who engage in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Every year, those affected by Alzheimer’s — either directly or indirectly — gather to share the power of this hope and to express their undying love for those who suffer.
The starting line
Now the largest event in the world to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and raise funds for research and care for those affected, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s had humble beginnings.
“The Alzheimer’s Association started Walks back in 1989,” shares Hannah White, a representative from the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter. “Now there are more than 600 Walks across the country. There are 25 different Walks in Illinois, and together we hope to raise more than 4.5 million dollars this year to end Alzheimer’s.”
While the timing of the Walks across the country spreads over the months of August through November, the 25 Illinois Chapter Walks take place in the months of September and October. One of those 25 walks is, of course, in Peoria.
Located at 1 Liberty Street in Peoria, Liberty Park will be the site of the 2018 Peoria Metro Walk to End Alzheimer’s. On Saturday, October 13th, the event will start with registration at 8am followed by a ceremony at 9:30am. The two-mile walk will then begin at 10 am.
“The Walk to End Alzheimer’s has been going on in Peoria for more than a decade and has grown tremendously,” Hannah adds. “Just this year, we expanded the Walk to include more participants from surrounding areas so we can offer even more to people on Walk Day. There will also be a Kids Zone, which includes a face painter, a balloon artist, and a magician.”
Raising support, raising hope
“The great thing about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is it’s a day full of love and support,” says Hannah, “There is no treatment, prevention, or cure for the disease, but getting hundreds of people to stand together and fight for a cure is so moving. It is a fun, uplifting event full of hope.”
That hope for a future free from Alzheimer’s begins with raising money. “The funds raised through the Walk to End Alzheimer’s benefit the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association,” Hannah says. “From face-to-face support to online education programs and promising worldwide research initiatives, the money you raise makes a difference in the lives of those facing Alzheimer’s, providing care and support for all affected. It drives research toward treatment, prevention, and ultimately a cure and speaks up for the needs and rights of people affected by Alzheimer’s.”
As uplifting as the Walk may be, the goal, of course, is to some day make the Walk superfluous by stamping out Alzheimer’s entirely.
“Participation in the event also helps to change the level of Alzheimer’s awareness in our local community,” Hannah continues. “We provide free, easy-to-use tools and staff support to help participants reach their fundraising goal. While there is no fee to register, we encourage participants to fundraise in order to contribute to the cause and raise awareness.”
There are myriad ways funds can be raised: from bake sales to dine-to-donate nights at local restaurants, from golf tournaments to holding garage sales and selling handmade goods. Regardless of how the money is raised, Hannah says, “the best fundraising efforts start by sharing your personal story about why you’re participating in the Walk.”
Sharing memories to save memories
Melody Hodgson, a longtime volunteer for the Walk, unfortunately has that personal story to share. Over 20 years ago, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Melody and her family started walking then, when the walk went by the name “Walk and Roll.”
In 2002, Melody’s mother passed away after fighting Alzheimer’s for several years. Engaging in the Walk that year was particularly difficult, as it took place just a few weeks after her mother’s passing. “My family thought it would be too soon to walk, but I thought it would be a great way to honor her,” Melody remembers. “I recall the Association and my peers welcoming me with open arms and being incredibly supportive. With all of the comfort and support I received from others, I knew that this was one of the main reasons why I would continue to walk and honor my mother.”
Regardless of the background from which someone comes or whether someone has lost a loved one, is currently engaged in the fight against Alzheimer’s, or simply wants to help make a difference, everyone at the Walk shares a commonality — a thread that entwines them on a deep level. “I have met many friends through the Walk,” Melody shares. “One friend in particular I have known for years because of my previous involvement with the Walk Planning Committee. We are still great friends and keep in touch often. I have also made great friends and connections through the Sigma Kappa Sorority at Bradley.”
Flowers of promise
Perhaps one of the most memorable visuals of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the sight of large, colorful flowers held by the participants. These Promise Flowers represent the diverse reasons each person has come to participate. “Participants will have the opportunity to write a personal message on their promise flower to further strengthen their dedication,” Hannah points out. “Once this message is written, participants come together for a heartfelt ceremony prior to the Walk. Then, together, the Promise Flowers create a dynamic, colorful, and meaningful garden that they will enter as they conclude their walk. Participants are then welcome to stroll through the garden, read each others’ stories, and take their Promise Flower home in remembrance of their Walk experience and the promises made.”
Each color of Promise Flower — yellow, orange, purple, and blue — represents the reasons for walking, Hannah explains. “A yellow flower symbolizes you are an Alzheimer’s or dementia caregiver, an orange flower signifies that you support the cause of the Alzheimer’s Association, a purple flower represents that you have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease, and a blue flower means you are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.”
“The lone white flower signifies the first survivor of this devastating disease. There is currently no prevention, treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease, so no one holds a white flower… yet,” Hannah adds. “The white flower represents hope for a future without Alzheimer’s disease.”
Memories and hope are what the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is about — memories of who our loved ones once were and an undying hope to restore their memories.
Registration for The Peoria Walk will start at 8am on October 13th at Liberty Park.
The Walk begins at 10am.
Visit alz.org/illinois for more information on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, to see if there is a Walk somewhere near you, or to donate to the cause. If someone you love suffers from Alzheimer’s, please call the 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.