Bob Thompson was 57 years old when he began noticing weakness in his knee and an unsteady gait. An avid cyclist who cycled all over the world, Bob was riding with his wife, Janie, on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina when he began lagging behind, and then he fell twice during the ride. Cycling was Bob's passion and he was always in the front of the pack, constantly circling back to Janie so she could catch up with him. So his lack of stamina and sudden falls caused them both to worry. This was in the fall of 2003.
Just a few weeks after noticing the unusual symptoms, Bob was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that usually attacks both upper and lower motor neurons, causing progressive weakness of muscles critical for moving, speaking and eventually, breathing. Cognitive functions are usually not affected.
In April 2004, just six months after Bob was diagnosed with the crippling disease, he passed away from respiratory failure. His family, however, is keeping his memory alive by organizing the first annual charity bicycle ride called "Muscle Mountain Mania." The ride will be held on April 2, 2005, in the beautiful North Georgia mountains. All proceeds from the ride will benefit ALS research at Emory University.
"One night after Bob's diagnosis, when we were both feeling helpless, we talked about organizing a bicycle ride to raise money for ALS research," says Janie Thompson, Bob's wife and ride organizer.
"Janie has first-hand knowledge and experience of the horrors of this disease, as well as our efforts to both care for patients and families and to find a cure," says Jonathan Glass, MD, professor of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine and director of the ALS Center at Emory. "Giving back is the best 'thank you' Janie could give."
Janie decided to hold the ride in the North Georgia mountains simply because Bob was the happiest when he was riding in the mountains. "He loved any mountains - especially the Colorado Rockies and the French Alps. Closer to home, we frequently rode in the mountains of North Georgia," says Janie.
The April 2 ride starts in Suches, Georgia at the High Valley Resort. Cyclists can opt for four different rides: a 15-mile ride (The Scenic Shorty), a 30-mile ride (The Thrilling Thirty), a 50-mile loop (The Fabulous Fifty) or a metric century - 62 miles (Muscle Mountain Mania). On all four rides, cyclists can experience some of the same routes as the Tour de Georgia, to be held later in April.
All rides will begin at 9 a.m. preceded by a brief opening ceremony. Refreshments will be provided at rest stops along the routes and a meal will be served when cyclists complete the rides. Parking, restroom facilities and showers will be available. The event will take place rain or shine. Registration for the ride is still open. A minimum gift of $60 is required to register and must accompany the ride application form. Checks should be made to Emory University. All cyclists will receive a ride jersey or a long-sleeve t-shirt, which will be mailed to registrants after the ride. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.alsride.org/.
"We are truly grateful for Janie's dedication and determination to make this ride a success, in the name of ALS research," says Dr. Glass. "These funds will allow us to be creative and 'think outside the box' to test new experiments that will focus on what causes motor neurons to die and what treatments may make a difference. Many times, these efforts are how new discoveries are made."
Supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and the ALS Association, the ALS Center at Emory is the only one of its kind in Georgia, and one of the few in the Southeast. Dr. Glass and his colleagues care for patients while continuing to research for causes and potential treatments for the disease.