Alzheimer’s disease has always played a huge part in Ryan Welch’s life. Growing up, Ryan heard incredible stories from his father about his grandfather Bernie, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, through sharing his story and participating in The Longest Day, Ryan fights to end Alzheimer’s in honor of his grandfather.
A Family’s History
My Grandpa Bernie passed away from Alzheimer’s back when I was around four years old. The unfortunate part of my relationship with my Grandpa Bernie is he was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before I was born. I never had the chance to really meet him, but my dad has always told me stories about Grandpa Bernie’s time in the Marine Corps and about what an amazing man he was.
Grandpa Bernie was president and CEO of the Broward Hospital District and did many great things to improve Broward hospitals. I have always looked up to him as a role model and known he would be proud of me. My dad was also chairman of the Southeast Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association from 1997 to 2001. It is inspiring knowing he was so involved and it makes the Alzheimer’s Association even more relevant in my life. I feel like being involved has been passed onto me and I look forward to being even more involved as I get older.
My family also put together golf tournaments in honor of my Grandpa Bernie. I believe it was in the late ’90s through early 2000s, and it was at a couple of different courses throughout South Florida. I was extremely young, so the extent of my involvement was just being there with my parents.
His First Marathon
The run took place on May 15. This was my first time doing one for the Alzheimer’s Association. I have done a handful of other marathons, but did not raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. I did the run on my own, so there wasn’t any official course or race. There was definitely a lot of preparation before going on the actual run.
The training program I did was 18 weeks long. I knew I wanted to begin raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association, but did not want to start too early in case I got injured or couldn’t run the full marathon. Doing the run in honor of my Grandpa Bernie definitely added another level of emotion to the run, but it helped a lot. I felt like it was a way for us to connect, and it made it feel like much more than just a run.
I used my Garmin watch to track my distance and time. I started at 7:19 AM and finished 5 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds later. The total distance was 31.26 miles, making it a 50K ultra marathon. I did it in St. Petersburg, Florida. The run was made harder because I did the whole thing on a .9 mile loop. My friends and family went above and beyond in supporting me, so it made sense that I should go above and beyond my goal!
Alzheimer’s has impacted and changed so many people’s lives on a personal level. I think a reason why this fundraiser was so successful is because it made a lot of people think of a loved one that has or had Alzheimer’s.
During my run, I stopped for water and talked to a couple that was sitting on a park bench. I told them about what I was doing and they told me about how a loved one had Alzheimer’s. Having people spread the word while fundraising is essential to helping those affected by such a horrible disease. And what I came to find through this experience is that almost everyone has been affected.
I’d love to make the marathon a yearly event and maybe try to get others in my area to participate with me.
Advocating With a New Generation
Even though most of the people that see my social media are my age, they have still been affected. A goal for advocating for Alzheimer’s would be to open up discussions on the topic for people my age. It seems that so many young people have dealt with a family member who has or had the disease. Maybe opening the discussion up to people my age would show that they are not alone in helping family members or with their own struggles.
Alzheimer’s is not something that people in their 20s talk about, but this opened up discussion within my friend group. It allowed us to talk about family members that have had Alzheimer’s even though it had never been brought up before.
Ryan Welch is a graduate of Florida State University. Go ‘Noles! He currently works as a reinsurance broker and enjoys running, fishing and biking in his spare time.