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May 22 - May 22, 2006
Local
Hitting the road for Huntington’s
By Sharon Sullivan
Free Press Staff Writer
Marie Nemec, left, and Charlotte Reicks leave Saturday to bicycle through six states, raising money and awareness for a Huntington’s Disease cure. Sharon Sullivan
Seven years ago Charlotte Reicks and Evelyn Logan were planning a bicycle trip across the United States.

An acquaintance, Marie Nemec, heard about it and asked if she could join them.

The duo became a trio.

Reicks never dreamed she’d be continuing those rides with Nemac seven years later — and not only would they be riding, but they’d be riding for a cause.

On the original ride, Nemec wanted to attend a national convention on Huntington’s Disease in Washington D.C.

“Neither one of us knew anything about Huntington’s Disease,” Reicks said. “Marie wanted to raise funds — she had an idea to collect funds for Huntington’s as we bicycled along.”

Starting in Santa Monica, the trio spent their second night with a family who had a member with Huntington’s. She was confined to a wheelchair, couldn’t talk, eat or walk. It was the first person Reicks had ever met with the disease. She was shocked.

They bicycled through California, Arizona, New Mexico, part of Colorado and into Kansas, leaving flyers along the way and telling people about Huntington’s Disease. Nobody they encountered had heard of the disease. Until they reached Kansas.

Reicks was at a phone booth, seeking lodging for the night — churches and colleges often provided them a free place to stay — when an old pick-up truck pulled up.

Two farmers got out and asked the women what they were doing. When Nemec explained they were riding for Huntington’s Disease, one of the men became tearful.

His wife had died of the disease and his daughter was in a nursing home with it.



Biking for a cause

“We thought that would be our first and last trip,” Reicks recalled.

She wasn’t even sure if they’d make it all the way across the country as planned.

“Then I became passionate — and compassionate — like Marie,” Reicks said.

The bike ride became a yearly event for Reicks and Nemec to raise awareness and funds for HD.

On Saturday, the two will embark on their eighth bike riding journey, this time across six Midwestern states. Starting in Kearney, Neb. they’ll ride through the state to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, finishing in St. Louis, Mo.

Sometimes it’s just the two of them; other times Reicks and Nemec are joined by other people along the way. For different portions of this trip they’ll have the company of a woman who lost her husband to HD, and another woman whose mom has it.



Life on the road

For the first few years, Reicks, who is 70, and Nemec, 62, winged it when it came to finding a place to sleep. Occasionally they stayed with families affected by HD. Most often they stayed at churches.

“These trips would not be possible if not for the extended arms of churches,” Nemec said.

After the first four trips, the two began bringing a support van along. Now they have a leap-frog system where one drives the van while the other rides. After a predetermined amount of miles the driver pulls over, unloads her bike, leaves the van for the other to catch up to, and begins riding the next segment of the journey. Which means they ride alone.

“We have our cell phones, God is with us, and we’re not going to be stupid,” Nemec said. Reicks adds, “After seven years we’ve found out how great people are.”

Nemec plots out the route each year, and then Reicks contacts churches to secure lodging during the trip.

“It’s easier when you know where you’re going to stay,” Reicks said.

They always break together for a lunch of peanut-butter and lettuce sandwiches on whole wheat bread. For dinner they sometimes are asked to dinner, or potlucks, or are invited to help themselves to whatever is in the church kitchen. Sometimes they go to a store and buy a simple box dinner. They seldom eat in restaurants.



For a good cause

So far this year Nemec and Reicks have raised $8,500 for family services and research towards a cure. Over the years, with matching funds figured in, they’ve raised more than $185,000. The money is donated to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America where funds are maximized due to an anonymous donor — a supporter of HDSA — who triples the donation.

Based on years of study by the National Institute of Health, 31,000 people nationally are estimated to be symptomatic of Huntington’s Disease. In Colorado, 467 people are estimated to be symptomatic, which means 3,423 are at risk. In the Grand Valley, an estimated 127 people have HD, which means approximately 931 are at risk, and 2985 family members are affected. These figures were provided by Fred Taubman, of the national organization, Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America was founded in 1967 when legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie’s widow Marjorie formed the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease. Guthrie died of HD in 1967 at the age of 55.

Daily messages will be written via e-mail recounting the highlights of the trip. To request a subscription, e-mail Nemec’s husband Ron at ron.nemec@bigfoot.com. Or check the internet at www.bikeforthecure.org. People interested in making a donation can call Nemec at 434-8323. Donations are also being accepted at Homestyle Bakery, 924 N. Seventh St.

All content and proprietary The Grand Junction Free Press, 2006.
All rights reserved.
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