The Sun News

WR man tries 750-mile hike to raise funds, Alzheimer’s awareness

Warner Robins resident John Rowlands is attempting to hike 750 miles of the Appalachian Trail in an effort to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

Only about 10 percent of people who start hiking complete all 2,000 miles of trails, which run through rugged terrain from Georgia to Maine, according to a Web site for Appalachian Trail hikers.

Rowlands, 57, began his hike Sunday. He has seen how Alzheimer’s disease can affect people. His father and two uncles died from it. He is on a personal crusade to find a cure.

“Wherever you put the money, the survival rate goes up,” he said.

Even though Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association doesn’t receive even half of the funding that the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association do, said Karen Kinsler, director of development for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Georgia Chapter at the Central Georgia Regional Office.

In Georgia, there are more than 200,000 people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder. There is no cure, and the age for developing the disease is getting lower, Kinsler said. She said it can start in the late 40s, but the average age is 65 for initial diagnosis.

Kinsler relates Alzheimer’s awareness now to where cancer awareness was 30 years ago.

“It was the big ‘C’ word,” she recalled. “No one talked about it.”

Her mission is to draw awareness to the disease to find a cure.

On his trek, Rowlands said, he will talk to anyone he can on the trail to explain why he is hiking.

Rowlands hopes to finish near Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. He is not traveling the whole trail because he needs to return in time for a family member’s wedding. His traveling companion is John Lee, who used to live in Warner Robins but now resides in Mississippi.

Lee said he hopes to finish the entire route.

“This is how our forefathers traveled,” Lee said. “We aren’t the first ones to do this.”

Rowlands is accpeting donations for the trip on his Web site, rowlands. His goal is to raise $2.50 per mile, which is $1,875. He will keep his wife, Kathy Rowlands, updated on how many miles he travels each day.

He said the response so far has been tremendous. People he doesn’t even know are donating.

“It’s really heartwarming to know how many have been touched,” he said.

To train for the hike, Rowlands ran about five miles a day.

During the hike, he will carry a backpack with all of his essentials. His lightweight pack, weighing 28 pounds at last check, will hold his tent, sleeping bag, food for a few days, water and clothing. Everything is thought through, and Rowlands has read books and visited Web sites to learn the best items to bring.

“We are even going so far as cutting the toothbrushes down” to eliminate weight, he said.

There are towns along the route where the two will stay to do laundry and re-stock food. The days they stay there are called “zero days” because there are no trail miles being accumulated.

“I’ve just got to keep moving,” Rowlands said.

And his hope is that the research will keep moving forward to find a cure for Alzheimer’s as well.

To contact writer Angela Woolen, call 923-5650.