It’s just a month away from the 113th running of the Boston Marathon. I will be at the starting line in Hopkinton, along with 28 other teammates from the Alzheimer’s Association Run for the Memory team. And my family, friends, and a half-million spectators will be loudly cheering me on as I make my 26.2-way from Hopkinton to Boston. But the biggest cheerleader in my life ― my mom―will be the person I hear the loudest in my heart.
My mom, Alice Cunningham, passed away June 18, 2008 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. When she was first declining, I remember my Dad telling me he was retiring (at age 76!) so he could take care of my mom full-time. And he did, for nearly twelve years. In the fall of 2007, my mom had progressed to a point where my Dad simply could not care for her at home anymore. The physical demands were too much.
So she went into Stella Maris, a wonderful care facility in Maryland. My Dad and sister Casey visited her daily, and I would drive the miles (386 to be exact) from Massachusetts to Maryland once a month to visit for the weekend.
I remember one particular visit, after I completed the Boston Marathon with the Alzheimer’s Association last spring. Of course, my mom at that point didn’t really understand that I was running for her and others with Alzheimer’s, but that didn’t matter. I brought down my Boston Marathon jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Then she took off in her wheelchair, pushing her feet along around and around the corridors of the facility, fierce determination in her eyes. Other visitors and I joked about how that jacket gave her magical energy.
In reality, my mom’s marathon with Alzheimer’s disease was far more lengthy, difficult and demanding than anything I have ever experienced. Her path was difficult, painful, and the finish line a cruel certainty. As she neared the end of her journey, I cheered her on in the best ways I knew how: bringing her chocolates, singing to her, combing her hair, rubbing her shoulders, saying “I love you Mom” as much as I could. It never seemed to be enough. Leaving her those weekends broke my heart.
Many runners on the Alzheimer’s team have similar experiences. We run Boston and it’s exciting, yes. But it means more―so much more. It’s our way of honoring, remembering, and cheering on loved ones with Alzheimer’s. And it’s a way to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and much-needed funding that goes toward Alzheimer’s care, treatment, and one day, a cure.
I’m so thankful for the Alzheimer’s team. They are an amazing, inspiring and fun group of runners. To each one I wish a marathon they will always remember. And as for me, well―mom, this one’s for you.
Want to support me and my run for the Alzheimer’s Association and my mom? Visit my webpage at: http://tinyurl.com/cwawu8