Followed by more than 200 supporters, Christopher Pendergast began the 14th annual Ride for Life on Monday, a 12-day journey from eastern Long Island to Manhattan.
Pendergast, a Miller Place man who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1993, founded Ride for Life in 1998 to raise awareness about the disease and funds toward finding a cure.
The trip from eastern Long Island to Manhattan is a familiar one for Pendergast, but this year’s send-off came with a surprise.
Administrators at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead, where the ride kicked off and Pendergast is an alumni, announced a scholarship in Pendergast’s name.
The Christopher Pendergast Scholarship will be given to a current Mercy student who shows a commitment to helping others and will be used to offset the cost of tuition for the following school year, said Deborah Kneidl, director of institutional advancement at the school.
She said it will be for about $500, but the school has not chosen an exact amount.
Christine Pendergast, Chris’ wife, said the scholarship is the only one that has been established in her husband’s name.
“That is a legacy that will live on beyond Chris’ lifetime,” she said. “That makes Chris very proud.”
Touched by talks Pendergast has given at the school, students at the Mercy junior and senior high schools raised $2,000 for the cause this year and about 150 of them followed Pendergast, who rides in a motorized wheelchair, around Riverhead for the first leg of this year’s ride.
Pendergast, who turned 62 last week, said the students raised more money than any other single entity this year.
He has a lot to feel lucky about, including the support of so many, and the fact that he is still alive. He said the average survival rate for someone diagnosed with ALS is two to three years.
Of his 14th ride, he said: “I’m sad that it is still necessary because ALS remains incurable, but I’m glad to be alive to do it.”
To follow Pendergast’s ride, check the Ride for Life website for a list of scheduled stops and receptions.
Photo: Christopher Pendergast prepares to start his 14th annual ride for life from Riverhead to Manhattan with students from Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead. (May 9, 2011)