Iowa State's Rhoads Rides For Alzheimer's

By Rob Gray, Reporter

AMES, Iowa — Everyone cradles, then shares a story, filled with memories both stark and comforting.

Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads bends an ear to each one, connecting emotionally, then mechanically, to a growing number of people who've faced — or are dealing with — the cruel nature of Alzheimer's disease.

"Some are on the humorous side and some are very sad," said Rhoads, who led more than 500 fellow motorcyclists on Saturday's fourth annual Ride to Remember fund- and awareness-raising event that benefits the Alzheimer's Association. "One gal here today lost her mom a month ago. A month ago to the date and here she is today because of the cause and because of the fight. You choke through those."

Rhoads lost his mother, Mary, on July 1, 2011, after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer's.

"It was a 12-year fight," he said. "She was gone years preceding her death and that's what's so ugly about this disease and how it affects every single person here. They've got a story, whether it's a relative or a friend. It's an ugly disease that's met no foe yet and that's why the awareness and funds are being raised at an event like this."

Organizers said Saturday's event had raised nearly $60,000, monies that will be dedicated to research and support for a cure.

It's an event high, despite ominous weather reports warning of looming thunderstorms.

Last year's Ride to Remember drummed up about $50,000 in donations and the previous year brought in $10,000.

"This shows the passion of the people," said Kay Rader, the development director for the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, "It may look like rain, but I got e-mails all week — 'We're coming, rain or shine, because we believe in this and we want to support coach Rhoads and the Alzheimer's Association.' And they're here because they have a story. They've been touched by this dreadful disease."

Rader said she lost her mother to dementia, which deepens her bond with Rhoads.

"I know what it's like to lose your mother to a disease that has no early detection, no prevention and no cure," Rader said. "We've got to find a cure for this."

The disease defies being pigeonholed.

Rader said a woman visited her offices last week after being diagnosed.

She's 30 years old.

"We're having earlier and earlier (diagnoses)," Rader said. "It's striking young."

Rhoads and more than 500 people strike back each June, one bike — and countless stories — at a time.

"I'm very appreciative for the groundswell of support for this event," Rhoads said. "When a gentleman came through with his original white Ride t-shirt — there wasn't many of us on that ride," Rhoads said. "I said, 'How many fo you think there were that day?' (He said), 'Oh, about 60 or so.' I'd imagine that was in the ballpark. But we were over 500 bikes last year and I think the weather's affecting is a little bit this year, but we'll be close to the same thing. It's one impressive sight to see these bikes go out, but it's more impressive hearing people talk back there and be emotional about what this disease means to so many people. It's that kind of day."
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