LI's Chris Pendergast raises funds for ALS with Riverhead-Manhattan ride
Chris Pendergast's parade came down West Main Street in Riverhead Monday morning, stopping at Riverhead Town Hall just before noon.
On the first leg of his ride from there to Manhattan to raise awareness of and research funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), the Miller Place man, who uses a motorized wheelchair, joined the first group of marchers at Southold Elementary School at 9 a.m.
The entire school left class and followed him west to the town line. In front, a truck carried a sign: -- A Cure Is Blowin' In The Wind -- ALS Ride for Life.
Pendergast, 63, a former teacher, slowly greeted the students at town hall, speaking just above a whisper. His wife, Christine, repeated his words because talking has become difficult after 20 years of living with ALS. People with the disease lose muscle control and eventually the ability to breathe on their own.
"Chris thinks he needs to write a story -- the graying of the ride," she said. "We're all 16 years older than when he went to Washington [on his first ride.]"
The annual ride continues Tuesday in Center Moriches, going to Woodhull School in Shirley. On May 18, Pendergast plans to cross the Brooklyn Bridge and finish in Central Park. His first ride, done in a wheelchair, also started on Long Island.
The students who began the march Monday were replaced at the town line by 100 seventh- and eighth-graders from Pendergast's alma mater, Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead; he graduated in 1998. When the students got to town hall, busloads of others from the Riverhead school district joined them.
Since its founding in 1998, his not-for-profit Ride for Life foundation has raised about $4 million for research and patient care.
When Riverhead town officials Monday read a proclamation declaring Monday Christopher Pendergast Day, his wife smiled.
"We don't want this to go to his head," she said. Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he knows adversity breeds strength and knows Pendergast is serving a greater purpose.
In 2010, Pendergast learned Stony Brook University Medical Center would name its ALS comprehensive care center in his honor.
Early on, Pendergast and his wife never realized how many people -- from politicians to athletes to others with ALS -- would support his cause. He was joined Monday by Gerry Hayden, owner and chef of the North Fork Table, who also has ALS.
Christine Pendergast told the group that life with her husband is a lot more than dealing with ALS. "Life is good," she said. "Life is what you make it."