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With feet and flowers, walkers raise money, awareness of Alzheimer's

Sunday's Walk to End Alzheimer's at Belmont Lake State Park featured Mets great Bud Harrelson and Karen Wile, whose husband got lost while jogging and was later found dead. Harrelson and Wile's husband, John, had both been diagnosed with the disease. Credit: James Carbone

Karin Wile stood on a stage at Belmont Lake State Park before Sunday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and raised a purple flower in honor of her husband.

John Wile lived with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade and died in August after becoming lost on a run.  

“If this hits your family, it’s devastating,” said Wile, 74, of Stony Brook. “I’m here today because I’m hoping we can find a cure.”

Hundreds of other flowers sprouted from a crowd of about 2,500 participants in a ceremony before the walk. Purple blossoms were carried by people who had lost a loved one to the degenerative disease. Yellow flowers went to caregivers and blue was for people living with Alzheimer’s.

Bud Harrelson, the legendary Mets shortstop and co-owner of the Long Island Ducks, held his blue flower on stage while his grandson, Luciano Abbatiello, 11, spoke on his behalf: “He is here today because he is living with Alzheimer’s disease and is determined to help us in this fight against this disease.”

Harrelson, 74,  was diagnosed in 2016 and with his ex-wife and caregiver, Kim Battaglia, began speaking about his fight earlier this year.

“We’re just out here to support Bud,” Battaglia said. “And he, as is his generous nature, is doing everything he can to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s and let people know that he’s living with it as best he can.”

Harrelson and his extended family joined the thousands   gathered for the 2-mile walk around the park. Participants raised nearly $300,000 for Alzheimer’s research and services, according to a spokeswoman for the Long Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Unfortunately there are more than 5 million Americans who live with Alzheimer’s disease and about three caregivers for each person afflicted with the disease,” said Doug Davidson, executive director of the Long Island chapter. “But those are  numbers — for every individual and family dealing with the disease, it’s a heartbreak on a daily basis.”

Erin Wile, John Wile’s daughter, was this year’s top fundraiser, collecting about $12,000 in a little over a month after her father’s death.

John Wile, 74, went missing after leaving his Stony Brook home for a jog on Aug. 6. Police issued a Silver Alert, which allows local law enforcement to share information about missing individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental disabilities. He was found dead two days later in the woods close to where he was last seen jogging, Suffolk County police said.

“My father was diagnosed really young and he was involved in a lot of studies and tests,” said Erin Wile, 47, of Brooklyn. “So I think us raising money to go toward continued research is something that he would really stand by.” 

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