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Fighting ALS with Ride for Life

Kelly Cummings' fourth-grade class at Cherry Avenue Elementary

Kelly Cummings' fourth-grade class at Cherry Avenue Elementary School in West Sayville welcomes the ALS riders. Credit: Kelly Cummings

Have you ever heard about a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (more commonly known as ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease? ALS is a disease that makes you lose the strength in your arms, legs, or sometimes both. For some people who have ALS, they lose their voice because their vocal cords weaken. Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis.

Ride for Life is trying to find a cure for this disease. Chris Pendergast founded Ride for Life in July 1998, riding his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium to Washington, D.C. He did it over the course of 16 days, raising money for ALS. Pendergast has had ALS for 23 years. After three rides to Washington, D.C., Pendergast moved Ride for Life to Long Island. Now the ride goes from Montauk Point to Manhattan, and finally, all around the metro area. Since that time, the event has raised close to $5 million for ALS research. Despite his illness, Pendergast is the only patient who participates for the entire length of the ride.

Every May, Ride for Life comes to visit our school, Cherry Avenue. Our fifth-grade student council walks to Sayville High School and back to Cherry Avenue with the Ride for Life walkers and riders. This year, I walked with them. The high school students motivated the Cherry Avenue fifth graders to cheer. Pendergast spoke of the Space Race and how John F. Kennedy put the first man on the moon in 1969. “We chose to start the Ride for Life,” Chris said, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard and worth doing. We won the Space Race in 1969.”

The students were told that the disease is hopeless, but they have chosen to work for a cure. To make it happen in Pendergast’s lifetime, they told us that we need to raise all the money that we can. In total, Sayville schools has raised nearly $2,500 for a cure. Our classmates welcomed Ride for Life participants with posters and signs as they rode throughthe circular driveway in front of our school.

To help raise more money you can do the amazingly fun ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge encourages people to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads, and then they can nominate others to do the same. Nominated participants have a day to say whether they will do the challenge, but they have to make a donation either way. You don’t have to be nominated to do the challenge. If you decide that you want to do it, a hot day would be best.

The challenge is held during August, so everyone has lots of time to do it and will take place every August until a cure is found. Professional golfer Chris Kennedy started the Ice Bucket Challenge in the summer of 2014. So far, $220 million has been raised. In 2015, $100 million was raised in donations. Kennedy believes that this year we will raise more money than last year.

Lily Coan, 10, said, “A few of my friends and family did the Ice Bucket Challenge with me two years ago. We had the adults pour a bowl of ice water over our heads. And then we jumped in the pool. It felt like the pool water was 90 degrees! I plan to do it again. ”

Gia Caiazzo, 9, also did the challenge last summer. “I did the Ice Bucket Challenge with my friend. One person poured the ice bucket over our heads, while another person sprayed us with the hose. I thought it was really fun and I want to do it again.”

You can raise money for ALS by doing the Ice Bucket Challenge this August. But be aware of the falling ice! To find out more, visit

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