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WKU students ride to fight Alzheimer's

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

A dozen Western Kentucky University students pedaled into Paducah Wednesday afternoon during a bicycle ride for Alzheimer's disease prevention, which began in San Diego and will end in Washington, D.C.

For the fundraiser, called Bike4Alz, the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers hope to raise $100,000 for the BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research and public education for brain and eye diseases.

Dressed in Alzheimer's awareness purple, the cyclists made their first overnight stop since entering Kentucky at BikeWorld on Wednesday, with plans to ride to Hopkinsville today. After gathering at BikeWorld, the students spent the night with Paducah families, some of whom BikeWorld co-owner Martha Emmons said have been touched by Alzheimer's.

Emmons said she learned about Bike4Alz through her daughter, Chandler Emmons Smith, a WKU junior and friend of several of the riders.

Emmons said BikeWorld was happy to help the riders.

"Any time anybody goes and tests themselves for good to the extent that these young people are, it behooves the rest of us to pay attention and give them all the support we can," Emmons said.

Having already spent 32 days on the road, the Bike4Alz riders have made their way through California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. According to Bike4Alz rider Ryne McMullen, who will begin his senior year at WKU in the fall, the riders have dealt with a number of bumps in the road along the ride.

McMullen said on the riders' first day in Arizona they decided to bike a stint that "was probably a little bit too long."

The cyclists, running low on water, called their support vehicle to meet up with them. But the vehicle overheated in the Arizona sun and couldn't reach them before the next stop on their route.

"So we had to push on forward and get there on low water," McMullen said.

Regardless of the challenges, the cyclists plan to reach Washington by July 18. McMullen said they have an event planned that day, so they're doing everything in their power to arrive on time.

This is the third Bike4Alz ride Phi Gamma Delta brothers have made to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. The inspiration for the first, held in 2010, was then-sophomore Tyler Jury's grandfather, who died of the disease. That ride took a group of six fraternity brothers from California to Virginia and raised $56,000.

To raise awareness, McMullen said, the WKU Phi Gamma Delta chapter holds events where it provides information about the disease. He said one of the aspects the fraternity wants to publicize is the disease's impact on those affected by it.

"We just want to ... show how much of an impact it has on an individual's life. They can't remember anything. They don't really know who they are. They can't really have normal conversations anymore," McMullen said.

"So we just try to show how it completely just overtakes, not only the individual with the disease, but the family around them," he added. "Because then they have to devote all their time to taking care of family or hire someone to do so."

The second Bike4Alz ride, in 2012, followed a route from Minnesota to Florida and raised nearly $65,000.  So far this year, McMullen said, the ride has raised about $30,000 toward its $100,000 goal. The cyclists have traveled just under 2,200 miles with 800 miles to go.

More information can be found at www.bike4alz.org, where those interested can make donations.

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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