WKU fraternity team pedals through Lexington for Alzheimer’s research

The residents at Pine Meadows Health Care began to close their eyes and hold hands with one another as the room grew quiet.

Resident Lula McDonald sat in her wheelchair and lead the room in prayer. She thanked God for the wonderful young men who were with her in the room and she asked that God be with them along their journey.

“Help them on their way, the whole way, Lord,” McDonald said.

She was praying Monday with Phi Gamma Delta (or Fiji)fraternity members from Western Kentucky University who, after biking nearly 2,700 miles, made their way to Lexington.

The group, Bike4Alz, still has close to 1,000 miles to go before it completes its trip from Seattle, Wash., to Virginia Beach, Va., in an effort to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease research.

Some members of the cycling group have first-hand experience with Alzheimer’s.

Eight years ago, Joey Badinger, WKU senior from Louisville, lost his grandfather to the disease.

Badinger said he wasn’t aware at the time his grandfather had the disease and didn’t really understand what was happening, but that changed.

“As I got older, and when he actually died from the disease, I actually understood, ‘He doesn’t remember who I am anymore,’ and that kind of thing,” he said. “It was heartbreaking when I figured that out.”

Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most common form of dementia.

The disease affects parts of the brain which controls thought, memory and language and can affect a person’s ability to carry out activities. In 2013, the disease accounted for 26.8 percent of deaths per 100,000 people.

Several members of the Bike4Alz group dropped by Pine Meadows while in Lexington to speak with residents and Paulette Baker, the center’s activities director.

Alec Brown, a senior at WKU from Brownsburg, Ind., said the group has visited a few places like Pine Meadows along their journey. Trips to facilities like this allowed some of the group members to meet those who have Alzheimer’s.

“When you think of what people with Alzheimer’s deal with on a day-to-day basis, it makes you pedal a little bit faster,” Brown said.

The group was at North Lime Coffee & Doughnuts earlier Monday morning holding a fundraiser.

North Lime had agreed to give 15 percent of its profits to the group. The business also accepted donations for the group and held a raffle for a Fitbit.

Alma Leigh, mother of Bike4Alz member Taylor Leigh, has been with the group since it entered Kentucky earlier this month.

The group has a goal of raising $100,000 and they’re close to $50,000 right now, Alma Leigh said, adding that she’s proud of her son’s participation, but she also worries about him.

“You worry about them out on the road with the traffic and stuff,” Alma Leigh said. “Glad he’s getting to do it, but I’ll be glad when it’s over and he’s home safe.”

This summer was the fourth trek Bike4Alz has made since its inception in 2010.

This was Carson Ball’s first time riding with Bike4Alz. Ball, a junior at WKU from Louisville, said the trip has been a thousand times more difficult then he originally thought it would be.

“Whenever I signed up for this, to be honest, I didn’t even think about the riding part,” Ball said. “It never even crossed my mind about how hard it would be.”

His great grandfather die from the disease but other than that he’s had minimal experience with Alzheimer’s before the trip, he said.

Being able to meet people who have suffered from the disease or have had family members who have has been an eye-opening experience for Ball.

“I didn’t know it was so prevalent, it really is. Just about everyone is affected by it in some way,” he said.

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