Members of the Rotary Club of Indian Rocks Beach take part in the Nov. 3 Ride to Defeat ALS. Third from the left is past President Michael Schultz of Largo who lost his mother to the disease in August.
Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Riders set out from the starting line Nov. 3 in Walsingham Park on the 62-mile Ride to Defeat ALS.
LARGO – Twenty-three years ago Joyce Baker of Oldsmar, lost her husband to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
There was no cure for the disease then and there is no cure now, but that hasn’t stopped Baker from helping to find the cure. She was one of several hundred bicycle riders who showed up early on Nov. 3 to take part in the annual event to raise money for the Ride to Defeat ALS.
The cyclists gathered at Walsingham Park in preparation for the 8:30 a.m. departure of the cyclists who were heading out on the long 62-mile ride. Later there would be 25-mile riders and 5-mile riders. All helped contribute to the $240,000 raised that day.
Joyce Baker wasn’t the only person in her family hoping to find a cure for ALS. Her sister Janet Sevald of Dunedin was also there, as was her daughter Jennifer Howard of Palm Harbor and her grandson Jake Howard. Jennifer had just moved to the area from Colorado where she had participated in several Walks to defeat ALS. This was her first bike ride and she was alone in her family in tackling the daunting 62-mile run.
“I’m nervous,” she said. “But I know I can do it, oh yes. My dad died of the disease in 1989 so I have an incentive.”
Another person who had incentive that day was Michael Schulz, the past president of the Indian Rocks Beach Rotary Club. Just over a year ago his mother Herta Schulz, 71, was diagnosed with ALS. She attended the ride at Walsingham Park last year to support family members who were taking part. She passed away from the disease on Aug. 29 this year, less than a year from the day she was diagnosed.
For her son, this day is significant.
“I have mixed emotions today,” said Schulz. “Yesterday we held a Memorial Service for her and it went well, so we’ll get through this.”
Alissa Gutierrez, information officer for the Florida Chapter of the ALS Association, said the turnout this year was roughly the same as last year, approximately 500 riders. But there was something puzzling about those numbers.
“Most of the riders this year are new riders,” she said. “We have to find out why many of the riders from last year chose not to ride again this year. It is puzzling; we need to retain riders from year to year.”
Gutierrez speculated that it might be the economy, which discouraged many would-be riders, or the nature of the ALS disease.
“This disease is fatal and perhaps once a person passes away the family and friends just want to put it behind them and move on,” she said.
To raise nearly $250,000 requires sponsors as well as enthusiastic money-raising individuals. This year United Healthcare is the main sponsor of the event and a sizable number of riders were wearing UHC colors. In fact among them were two professional riders who were actually in training for the Tour De France.
Most of the riders were not there to win any medals or trophies; they were driven by the need to defeat a disease that has claimed so many lives.
“It is dreadful,” said Joyce Baker. “But at the same time there is so much hope. You have to stay involved; everybody has to help everybody.”
Then as if to remind herself of how she gets through her days since her husband’s death 23 years ago she said: “Life is wonderful, you either get better or you get bitter, it is your choice.”