Chris Heerdegen was in his 20s when he started to notice changes in his grandfather’s behavior. The examples of how Alzheimer’s disease diminished his grandfather’s reasoning are seared in his memory like “the day he made coffee for he and my grandmother but he put gasoline in the coffee pot.”
Or, the day his grandfather went out to get the mail, and the family noticed he had been gone for a long period of time. They looked up and “he came in the house carrying the concrete mailbox post.”
Heerdegen’s grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease. Then about six years ago, Heerdegen’s father – Richard “ Dick” Heerdegen or “the master of navigation” – took a turn that even he could not navigate out of. He was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s. He died last November, about 5.5 years after getting the diagnosis.
“We didn’t talk about (the diagnosis) much. You get together with him and he just wanted to be treated like dear ole dad. But he knew something was wrong, he didn’t want to be a burden,” Heerdegen said. “Outwardly he probably accepted it but internally, he felt lost.”
So on June 21, the summer solstice and The Longest Day®, Heerdegen, of Ottawa Lake, MI, will be working to raise money for an Alzheimer’s cure. He is holding an event called Rowing to Remember, where he will use a rowing machine and row for 16 hours, all to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and for the Northwest Ohio Alzheimer’s Chapter to provide more care and support.
The event will be held at The Fitness Shack in Sylvania. He is doing it to honor his grandfather, his father and his uncle, who is currently living with the disease. “The next one in line of Heerdegen men is me.”
Carol Smietanski, events coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, Northwest Ohio Chapter, said, “Chris’s energy and passion to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s is incredible. He has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of this disease and is passionate about raising funds for a cure. Please join Chris and others on The Longest Day® to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.”
The Longest Day® is an event where people around the world who support the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association do an activity they enjoy to raise money for the Association. Heerdegen is rowing because that is an activity he started to increase his physical activity. On June 21, he is rowing 7,200 meters per hour, for a total of 72 miles to honor his father, who died when he was 72 years old.
People can donate or sign up for a shift to row with Heerdegen at RowingToRemember.com. In addition, Lena’s Italian Restaurant in Blissfield, MI and Mayberry Ice Cream in Sylvania are donating 20 percent of sales on June 21 to the Alzheimer’s Association. Inside the Five in Sylvania is donating 20 percent of beer sales that day. In addition, drive creative marketing in Toledo, Uncle Louie’s Fireworks and Skylight Financial Group are also supporting the fundraiser.
Heerdegen’s goal is to raise $50,000. “My dad always said, ‘Go big or go home.’”
About the Alzheimer’s Association®
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Approximately 5.8 million in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association, call 1.800.272.3900, or visit alz.org.