Georgia man seeks to raise awareness, money for Alzheimer’s

pramati@macon.comJanuary 28, 2013 

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    Jack Fussell, 62, is running from near Savannah to Monterey, Calif., to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease awareness. He is blogging and tweeting about the experience regularly on his website, www.acrosstheland2013.com. To learn more about his effort and to donate to the cause, visit the website. To learn more about support services available for Alzheimer’s patients and their families, call (800) 272-3900.

More than a decade ago, Jack Fussell -- then 270 pounds -- was in an intensive care unit suffering from a bleeding ulcer.

Thanks to an extreme running regimen, Fussell, now 62, was able to drop more than 100 pounds, which he said probably saved his life.

Now Fussell is looking to help others through running. He hit the road on Savannah’s Skidaway Island on Jan. 12 with a goal of reaching Monterey, Calif., later this year. He’s trying to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, which took Fussell’s father’s life and affects about 5.4 million Americans.

“I set goals that had to do with running for several years, and I needed a new goal,” Fussell said.

The idea popped into his head to run across America. But when he called his friends and family to tell them of his goal, one of them asked if he was running to promote a cause. That’s when it hit Fussell he could use his trek to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

Fussell, who lives in Talking Rock, a speck of a town in Pickens County, wanted to run coast to coast and decided to go to Monterey, where his stepfather’s family is buried.

He said he has no idea how long it will take, because he stops regularly along the way to visit local Alzheimer’s Association headquarters as well as nursing homes. He averages about 16 miles a day but has run as far as 34 miles in one day.

“I thought it might take six or seven months, but when I stop in towns that have an Alzheimer’s office, I want to stop by,” he said. “Raising money and awareness, that’s what’s important, not how quick I get there.”

Andrea Mickelson, metro Atlanta’s development manager for the Alzheimer’s Association who is serving as Fussell’s point of contact, said no one has ever done anything like this for Alzheimer’s -- especially someone more than 60 years old.

Fussell said it likely will be easier to run the 3,000-mile trip on flat, paved roads than his usual method of training. Fussell typically ran up and down the 604 steps at Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville -- up to 50 times a day.

Fussell also is running across the country alone, with no trail vehicle. His only possessions are loaded into a jogging stroller his son dubbed “Wilson” (named after the volleyball companion for Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Castaway.”) However, Fussell said people he has met on the road have helped him along the way, either by getting him a hotel room or letting him stay at their homes.

One couple from Swainsboro was particularly inspired, and a man ran part of the way with him because he also had suffered from being overweight until he took up jogging. The couple later rented a hotel room for Fussell that night.

Karen Kinsler, director of development for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Central Georgia Region chapter, said efforts like Fussell’s are important in making the public aware of the disease, which often isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed.

She said running is particularly effective, because researchers think people in better physical shape are less susceptible to the disease.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It all starts with awareness. (Alzheimer’s) is like cancer was 30 or 40 years ago. People didn’t want to talk about it.”

Kinsler said her organization doesn’t charge for the services it provides the families of Alzheimer’s patients, so any money raised is helpful. Fussell’s goal is to raise $250,000 with his run.

“We can’t do it without money,” she said. “We exist because of the efforts of people like Jack.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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