8/9/2013 6:02:00 AM Cross-country runner has terrifying moment while raising Alzheimer's awareness
Jack Fussell, in the yellow shirt, is running across the country to draw attention to Alzheimer’s disease. He stopped in Kingman Thursday morning to visit with the nurses and residents of the Lingenfelter Center for Alzheimer’s Care on Sunrise Avenue. (SUZANNE ADAMS-OCKRASSA/ Miner)
Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa Miner Staff Reporter
KINGMAN - Jack Fussell, 62, is running across America to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease. Jack arrived in Kingman Thursday morning and stopped to visit the residents at the Lingenfelter Center for Alzheimer's Care on Sunrise Avenue.
In July, he got a frightening taste of what those affected by the disease go through.
"I was running along the highway near Santa Rosa (N.M.), when the next thing I knew I was hearing truck and car horns honking all around me. I was running down the centerline of the road. I woke up with semi trucks on either side of me. I have no memory of how I got there," Fussell said. "I looked behind me and there was an overpass. I have no memory of going under that overpass."
Fussell said he had been running in 103-degree heat for three days before the incident, but felt fine that morning.
"I still don't know what happened. I have no memory of it," he said. However, he sheepishly admitted that he hadn't been keeping on top of his food intake that day.
The episode was a brief glimpse into the life his father, who died from cancer and Alzheimer's in 2000.
"The second time I went to visit my father after he was diagnosed, he didn't remember me," he said.
But that was just the beginning of his trials. A year after his father died, Fussell was met with more bad news when he was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer and a heart murmur.
"My organs were trying to shut down. Doctors told me I had lost nearly 50 percent of the fluid in my body," he said. "I was 254 pounds. I had been around 260 and 272 pounds for the last 25 years. The doctors told me if I continued that way, I wouldn't live long."
Fussell bought an exercise/diet book by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and the original P90 exercise videos. He lost 100 pounds in a year.
"I set five running goals, one for each year," he said. "After the fifth year, I ran out goals. I was sitting in my living room at 9 o'clock at night when I got the idea to run across America."
Fussell said he started making calls to gather supporters for his cause.
"It was the second person I called who asked me what charity I was running for," he said. "I just said 'Alzheimer's disease.' I hadn't even really thought about it. It just came out."
His next call was to the Alzheimer's Association, which accepted his offer. Then came the grueling 24-hour runs at a local state park in his home state of Georgia in order to prepare for the coming trip.
Fussell officially started his run across American on Jan. 12 at Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah.
He carries his camping gear, food and other necessities in a running stroller called "Wilson" which is manufactured by Bob Gear.
"My son named it, after the Wilson in the movie 'Castaway,'" he said.
Fussell said when Bob Gear found out what he was doing, they donated a stroller for him to raffle off to anyone who supported his fundraising efforts. They also offered to replace or repair Wilson at any time during his trip.
He averages about 30 miles a day and has gone through nine pairs of Brooks running shoes. Brooks isn't sponsoring his run, but a pair of the shoes always seems to show up when he needs them.
He stays at campgrounds or sometimes in the Alzheimer's care homes he visits along the way.
"I don't get much sleep in some of those care homes, but that's OK," he said.
Fussell will travel more than 3,000 miles before he reaches his destination in Monterey, Calif. But he won't travel all of those miles on foot. He caught a ride to Lake Havasu City and plans to catch one from Havasu to Barstow, Calif. That's OK with him, because it's not about the mileage; it's about bringing attention to Alzheimer's.
"The hardest part about this trip is not turning it into a track and field event," he said. "Every time I am greeted by a group of runners, I get to thinking about how many miles I've run, but it's not about the miles. It's about the people who have been touched by this disease. It's about the people who stop me along the road, crying and tell me about their loved ones. It's about the caregivers in the care homes who work with these people."
"You know, I get to meet governors and get clapped for. The caregivers, they don't get clapped for," he said.
Fussell said he's met and talked to lot of interesting people in his run, including drug dealers and homeless folk.
The local police in a Mississippi town warned him not to take a certain road out of town because of the high crime and drugs in the area. He did it anyway.
"I was running down the street and there was a drug dealer on just about every corner. A few of them stopped to talk to me about their own family members with Alzheimer's," he said.
He was told to avoid a similar area in Albuquerque, N.M. that was full of homeless folk, but decided to run down that street anyway and had a number of conversations with people.
"You know, the expression you have on your face when you walk up to someone sets up how that person is going to treat you," he said. "Crossing to the other side of the road to avoid someone is hurtful."
Fussell also met the governors and mayors of several states and towns he ran through.
"The one that sticks most in my mind is the governor from New Mexico," he said. "When I arrived, she had just hung up the phone with the governor of Arizona. They had been talking about the firefighters who were killed (in Yarnell). She was very emotional and she wasn't in that political mindset. She too had lost a family member to Alzheimer's."
But it's really the caregivers and family members that touch him the most, Fussell said.
"It'll take me maybe seven or eight months to complete this, but those people give maybe 12 years of their lives caring for their family members," he said. "And they go through that every day."
Once he reaches Monterey, Fussell plans to drive his route back to Georgia.
After a short rest, he'll travel to Washington, D.C. to spread his message and then visit the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.
The Alzheimer's Association has 24 hour, 7 days a week, free hotline for caregivers in need of support. Call (800) 272-3900 or visit www.alz.org for more information.
To donate to Fussell's run or the association, visit acrosstheland2013.com.
Posted: Monday, August 12, 2013
Article comment by:
Way to go Jack Fussell and everyone else involved! Good cause I appreciate what you are doing.
Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013
Article comment by:
A big Hoorah to Jack Fussell and to the nurses at the Lingenfelter Center on Sunrise Ave. I watched 2 of my closest buddies die from Alzheimer's disease. It broke my heart to watch them go from manhood back to babyhood.