WALK TO DEFEAT ALS
The Palkos have been busy walking the past few weekends for the ALS Associations’ Walk to Defeat ALS. Up in Detroit Michigan, Team Kreg rallied under captain Krysten, my dad’s sister, for an incredibly successful event. My mom writes, “the sun shone down on us as Kreg, the Detroit ‘Honored Walker’ spoke eloquently to the crowd filled with his high school friends, his parents’ high school friends, and family, family, family! He inspired the crowd and we set off for a great 3K then a full Palkoville cookout afterwards!” Team Kreg raised an incredible $16,000 for the walk, and they send their gratitude to all those who contributed!
Naturally, my team had to beat that $16,000 accomplishment. Palkos are bred for competition; it’s just in our blood. Luckily, we had the advantage of an extra week to fundraise, so I pushed really hard and published another blog post, and apparently that got people goin’ because before we knew it we reached nearly $25,000. Unbelievable.
The day of the walk we gathered at my dad’s best-lifelong-friend Budd’s house for bagels and donuts as we bundled up in layer after layer to embark on a chilly Denver morning. We taped large 41s to our backs with blue and white duct tape and set off to the park. Snowcapped mountains were visible in the distance as we walked hurriedly to stay warm. When we rounded the corner of the parking lot, I was blown away. There were SO many people there! There were marching bands playing, tents set up, balloons everywhere, music playing, just people everywhere! I had no idea it was going to be such a large event. Our team filed over to our designated table, donning our duct tape uniforms amidst a crowd of experienced walkers in their custom t-shirts (I swear we’re going to have the coolest shirts next year). Three ladies lead an interesting jazzercise warm up as people got registered and settled, and then the event began.
A peppy woman named Pam from the Association hopped on the mic to make some initial announcements; thanking us all for being there, some notes on the course, what the Association does, etc. She shouted enthusiastically that with something like 85 teams and 2,000 participants, the Denver Walk goal of $275,000 was exceeded. Next, she announced the top three individual fundraisers, and this lucky gal earned herself top spot. I was called up in front of the crowd as the number one individual fundraiser with $10,915 to my name. I received a nice, shiny, red and gold medal and a big applause from the crowd. I ran back to my table with a big smile on my face, reciprocating tons of high fives on my way back. Next announcement came top team fundraisers. I couldn’t help but smile when I knew that our team would be the winner for this as well. As expected, Pam calls out that TEAM 41 is the top fundraiser for the event, and as the team captain, I ran back up the podium and received another medal and a baseball bat that gets passed down every year to the leading team. When she announced how much we had raised, I could see people’s eyes widen and jaws drop. This time, the applause was thunderous.
Now I’m sporting my dad’s Air Force football jersey, not one but two medals, and a big 41 painted on my face, so I was certainly easy to spot. And people came and found me. I met several wonderful people from Colorado Springs (where Kyle and I both live) who are all part of a local support group and they sucked Kyle and I right in. Many people from the Association sought me out to offer me resources, support, and contacts for anything I might need. Strangers gave me hugs, high fives, words of congratulations, bewildered questions on how we raised so much money. Everyone was asking if dad was there because they all wanted to meet him and get to know him. At the moment I was sad to say he was back in Rhode Island, but I am now happy to report that both my parents were busy having a blast on a night out with some of their best friends, and dad could be repeatedly found where he belongs; the middle of the dance floor.
What hit me the hardest were the people living with ALS that approached me in their wheelchairs. They found me just to say thank you, and reached out with their nearly immobile hands just to hold mine and show me their genuine gratitude. In those moments, I wish that each and every individual that donated to us could have held their hands, to feel the appreciation that we are all taking action to combat this disease, that our money is going to help these individuals. I wish you all could have looked in their tear-filled eyes as they offered just a few subtle words, because they are speaking to you. Everyone who is joining us in this fight deserves that kind of thanks, because we are all battling together. It’s going to take an army (or an Air Force?) to defeat this thing, and it’s so critical that everyone is stepping up to spread the word and take action.
Kyle and I got pulled aside to be interviewed for a documentary that the Association is creating, and talking to the woman who was putting it together, she mentioned how just a couple years ago, ALS was a stagnant cause. There was little advocacy, no treatment, small amounts of research being done, and hardly any awareness. In the past couple of years it has really been brought to the forefront. There are millions of dollars being poured into research for cures, and there are support services and help for people and families like ours who are affected by the disease. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it before dad was diagnosed, and I’ve heard a lot of people say the same thing. This is where we can all help. Get the word out, spread awareness. Awareness leads to conversation, and conversation leads to action. Our walk teams are solid proof of that.
We walked our 3K and along the way I found myself talking to a lot of people who were in my shoes. They all had loved ones who are fighting the battle my dad is, or worse, have succumbed to the struggle. It was almost unbearably heart-wrenching to hear their stories, there is nothing I want more than to keep them just that; stories: things of the past. ALS does not belong in our future, and I hope to never have to tell stories like theirs.
Like I said, Palkos are competitive, we’re fighters, we win. I think we can be the ones to beat this, or at least we’re all going to put up a hell of a fight.
I just want to thank everyone who donated, has written us kind words, and have kept our spirits high. I also want to thank everyone who came out to the walk, including four of my best friends from CC, all of Kyle’s Air Force buddies, all of dad’s old friends who came along, and an angel on earth, Budd. We all had a hell of a time together.
Now I’d like to leave you with something that I hope will blow your mind like it did mine.
Up in Detroit, Team Kreg raised about $16,000. Here in Colorado, TEAM 41 reached nearly $25,000. Combined, the whole Palko family raised…wait for it…..wait for it…… $41,000. Not only is this an astonishing figure, it just so happens to be dad’s number. It’s almost too crazy to be true. 41 been his football jersey number forever and it’s just that number that’s stuck with him throughout life. Collectively, all of our efforts and contributions amounted to this miraculous figure. We are all part of a whole, and when we came together as a whole to represent dad, look where it got us! If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.