Running Across America to Spread Awareness for Alzheimer’s

Here at MariaShriver.com, we believe in Architects of Change: people who see a problem, whether at home, in their community or around the world, and who then go do something about it. Even if it is a simple act like speaking up at the dinner table. Nothing is too small, and nothing is too big for an Architect of Change.

Jack Fussell embodies this idea. He saw a problem: a lack of awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. And he decided to do something about it. At the age of sixty-four, he is currently running across the United States of America to spread awareness for the disease. In 2013, he ran from Savannah, Georgia to Monterey City, California with nothing but a jogging stroller, logging a total of 3,500 miles for Alzheimer’s. But that wasn’t enough. He’s doing it all again.Jack Fussell 4

[Read: We Challenge You to Help Us Wipe Out Alzheimer’s NOW]

He stared on Tybee Island, Georgia and has mapped out a strategic route through the country to find people to speak with, stopping at different offices of the Alzheimer’s Association along the way. Even though he is using a car to help him this time, because “he doesn’t want to bother other people along the way,’ he will still run a total of 3,500 miles with his jogging stroller, which is plastered with signs about his mission. His car is covered with these signs as well and telephone numbers for people to call and learn more.

He spoke to MariaShriver.com recently while he was in El Reno, Oklahoma making his way to Amarillo, Texas.

Why did you decide to run across the country? It’s a lot of time and a lot of miles!

My dad died with Alzheimer’s in June of 2000. About 9 months later, I had a bleeding ulcer, and I stayed in ICU for four days. I was over two hundred and fifty pounds. With eating right and training, I started running, I lost 100 pounds in just eleven months. As I got more fit, I had all these personal goals I wanted to meet, running a certain distance… When I met them, I was searching for a new goal.

[Read: Why I Volunteer to Visit People With Alzheimer’s]

So I said, I’m gonna run across America, as a personal goal. I didn’t think about Alzheimer’s at the time. The first person I called asked me, “What charity are you doing it for?” And I hadn’t thought about it, but the first thing that came out of my mouth was “Alzheimer’s.” The first trip was instigated by my dad.

Why do a second trip? You already did an incredible thing by running across America once in 2013.

On the first trip, I learned so much. I couldn’t imagine going home and putting all that material in a drawer. I thought to myself, I’ve got to keep doing this. I mean people have helped me: advocacy people, caregivers, people I meet.

They say with advertising, 50% is a waste, and you don’t know what is going to stick. So you have to do everything.

I am so honored to be doing this. It is the most purpose-filled thing I’ve ever done. People always say to me: please don’t ever quit. And I always say to them: I won’t.

[Read: ‘The Long Hello’ — An Alzheimer’s Memoir Worth Reading]

What is your goal on this trip?

To create situations where I can talk to people. In 2013, around 1,500 people found me and talked to me. On this trip, it’s going to be a lot more than that because I’m going to places like universities with my jogging stroller, talking to students… We’re getting media coverage. I am trying to be real opportunistic to find places and ways to talk to people about Alzheimer’s, including visiting assisted living facilities, local chambers of commerce…

What do you talk to people about specifically?

I’m doing everything I can to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s in 2 ways: The first way is to tell caregivers that the Alzheimer’s Association does exist, and they can call on the phone and get help. There’s a scary fact from the association, that 40% of caregivers are dying before the patients because of the stress…

The second type of awareness I’m trying to spread is to tell the general public, that maybe you’ve heard about Alzheimer’s, you know the word, but you don’t know how devastating it is to patients and caregivers. So please learn how horrific this disease is, not only on patients but also caregivers, so maybe you will feel what you need to feel to call lawmakers and put it on their radar. It’s not really on people’s radars, on constituents’ radars… they may have heard the word, but don’t know how horrific it is.

[Read: Are You An Alzheimer’s Innovator? Share Your Photo and Story]

The most horrific part to patients is when they realize they are coming in and out of consciousness, and that one day they will go in and not come out. And their body will keep running and their loved ones will have to take care of them. I mean that’s horrific. Just horrific.

On your journey, what have been some of your favorite moments and your biggest challenges?

My favorite times, definitely talking to people. When people are following my updates on my blog and Facebook and come out to find me and talk to me. I hear so many stories…

It is a lot of time to have your body and your soul and your emotions out there. I really have learned that. And I actually got to a point where I have said:

“If I can do this, then there is so much else so many other people can do.”

I’ve been in twenty degree weather for 8 hours. That is hard, because your body gets worn down. So it really is amazing. It’s hard for me to believe at sixty-four… I cannot believe the things I do. I think to myself, ‘how did I do that?’  But I’ll tell you what: I can’t imagine not doing this. This is really living. I can’t imagine going home and sitting on the couch and watching TV and being a grandfather for one hour when my daughter calls and wants me to watch the kids. Raising awareness for Alzheimer’s has become more important to me than my own life.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest essay]

Some days, I am so tired and cold and running down the road crying. And then you hear a horn, and the guy in a truck passing by has his hand out pointing at you with a thumbs up. And you feel great and stand about 6 inches taller because another human being is telling you to keeping going: “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep on going.”

 

Jack will continue along Route 66 until he reaches Albuquerque, New Mexico  where he’ll go north towards Denver. He plans to finish his journey across the country on September 12th in Monterey City, CA. 

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Join Maria Shriver’s Campaign to Wipe Out Alzheimer’s by visiting wipeoutalzheimers.org.

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