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Walk from Chicago raises awareness of Alzheimer’s

POSTED: October 10, 2013 12:25 a.m.
Crystal Ledford/

Bill Glass talks about his experience walking 56 days from Chicago to Cumming with his mother, Eileen Glass, at The Oaks at Post Road assisted living facility. Glass completed the walk in honor of his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease and lives at the Forsyth facility, as a way to raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

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While most people may be willing to walk a couple of miles for a loved one, probably not many can say they out-walked Bill Glass.

The Chicago-area native last week completed a 56-day trek that took him from the Windy City to Cumming on foot.

Glass decided to take the long walk in honor of his mother, Eileen Glass, a resident of The Oaks at Post Road assisted living facility.

Eileen Glass was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about four years ago. She then made the decision to leave Chicago to live closer to Bill’s older brother, Kevin, who has called Cumming home for about 15 years.

Bill Glass, a former restaurant waiter and bartender, decided earlier this year that he wanted to do something special for his mom while raising awareness of her condition and support for the Alzheimer’s Association and legislation that would increase funding for research into the condition.

“I hadn’t done a lot and I was in denial a lot of the time [about my mom’s condition],” he said. “I wanted to figure out what I could do to help.”

He knew he was going to be relocating to Cumming to be closer to his mom and brother.

“So I thought what better way to get here than to walk,” he said.

He decided to tie the long trek to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I wanted to do something to raise awareness and to let Congress know that, ‘Hey, we need more help because this is one of the most devastating diseases and most expensive diseases someone can face,’” he said. “And with the baby boomer [generation] aging, it’s going to become more and more of a problem for so many families.”

Glass began his walk, which he dubbed the “Flowers for Mom” Chicago to Atlanta walk in reference to picking wildflowers for Eileen as a child, on Aug. 5.

He had goals of raising $10,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association and speaking with as many people as possible about their experiences with the disease.

Throughout the walk, he scheduled numerous meetings with local chapters of the association, assisted living facilities and other community groups as possible, he said.

Everywhere he went, he heard stories of other families who have gone through the tragedy of having a loved one diagnosed with the disease, which affects memory and the ability to perform day-to-day activities and eventually kills the brain.

“I wanted to collect as many stories as I possibly could to share with legislators,” he said. “I was taking all those stories I head to the Congressional offices.”

Along the way, he visited many of those to encourage support of the HOPE For Alzheimer’s Act, which according to the Alzheimer’s Association website, “would improve diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and increase access to information on care and support for newly diagnosed individuals and their families, providing essential support.”

Glass carried a 40-pound pack that included a tent, in which he often slept, although he said many times he was invited into people’s homes or assisted living facilities to eat and sleep.

“I was overwhelmed by the kindness of people everywhere I went,” he said. “It really renewed my faith in people.”

He was also impressed by their generosity, with many of them giving him cash towards his $10,000 fundraising goal despite his advising them to donate on the association’s website.

He said probably the most memorable thing that happened along the way came from an unlikely source.

Glass said he was finishing a meal at a pizza parlor, when he was approached by a man who was obviously homeless.

“He pulled out $5 and gave to me for the cause,” Glass recalled. “To have someone give you what is literally their last dollar, it’s extremely humbling.”

Those donations added up, and when Glass arrived in Cumming last week, he said he had reached about $5,000 through donations online and in person.

“But today I’m almost at the $10,000 mark thanks to some friends in my hometown who made a very large donation after they heard about what I was doing,” he said.

As for his mother, Eileen, and older sister, Mary Freirmuth, who lives in Kansas City, the trek was a little unnerving.

“I am very proud of him, but I was worried about him,” Eileen Glass said.

The younger Glass said his sister, who is the oldest of the three siblings, kept close tabs on him.

“Whenever I would be without cell service for a while, as soon as I had it again, I’d be flooded with text messages from her,” he said.

Now that he’s made it to his destination, Glass is living with his brother until he finds employment and his own place. He’s also enjoying spending time with mom.

“It’s so nice to be here with her now,” said Glass, who noted that he wasn’t an athlete of any sort before beginning the walk.  

He plans to keep walking, but only in short distances. He also plans to keep working to raise awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association and encouraged people to go to the organization’s website, www.alz.org, to learn more about the disease and make a donation.

He won’t soon forget his 750-mile journey.

“It was definitely a life-changing experience,” he said.

 

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