Jack Fussell stopped in Macon this week on his second run across America in two years.
Fussell’s 3,600-mile trek from Tybee Island to Monterey, California, is a personal mission to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that causes memory loss among other issues.
The 64-year-old started running Nov. 6, pushing his stroller of necessities along U.S. 80, accompanied by nothing but the sound of his feet hitting the pavement.
On Thursday, one of the places he visited was Cambridge Court, a memory care center at Carlyle Place, Navicent Health, where he hugged caregivers, residents and their families. He said he will visit every Alzheimer’s Association office on his route as well as facilities Cambridge Court.
Fussell, who lives in Canton, has experienced the devastating effects of the disease firsthand.
“My dad died with it, (and) he had six brothers and sisters that had it,” Fussell said. “Seven out of 12 children had (Alzheimer’s disease).”
In March 2001, nine months after his father died, Fussell said he developed a bleeding ulcer. He was hospitalized in an intensive care unit for four days.
“That scared me to death,” Fussell said of his near-death experience. “My motivator was fear. ... I (came) out of the hospital and started doing all the right things.”
At the time, Fussell weighed 273 pounds, but he now weighs 165 pounds.
“I started running in 2006,” Fussell said. “I had five running goals, and I got finished with them. ... So I decided to do this for the Alzheimer’s people.”
His first cross-country run last year took a little more than seven months, including nine days of rest. He ran 2,600 miles and decided to do it all again.
“Honestly, I realized I had so much knowledge of things, (and) it just seemed like a waste, to me, to stop with that knowledge and just say, ‘I’m zipping it up and throwing it away,’ ’’ Fussell said. “I had over 3,000 (caregivers) come out and talk to me beside the road. I know things now to tell them for sure, things I didn’t know last year.”
Now that Fussell is more informed about the different aspects of the disease, he said he is able to tell caregivers how and where to get help and how to better listen. He said he learned to tell caregivers not to be embarrassed when they call the association’s 24/7 help line.
Emily Bowden, director of constituent events for the association’s Middle Georgia office, said roughly 21,500 people in the 26-county area have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s this year.
“One in three (people) over age 85 will have Alzheimer’s,” Bowden said.
“The statistics show now that more women over 60 will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than breast cancer, and one in eight women get breast cancer.”
The Alzheimer’s Association provides free support services for families affected by the disease.
“Our services are great for the ones we help, but there’s so many more people that we don’t get to help because they don’t know about us,” Bowden said. “I think we’re just very fortunate to have (Fussell) as a representative for our awareness for (the) Alzheimer’s Association. ... I couldn’t have lived without this organization when I was a caregiver for my mom.”