Carol Moeller completed the 10K race at the Long Island Marathon last year despite being so ill that she couldn’t drink water before or after. She couldn’t eat much because she couldn’t swallow. She had lost the ability to talk, sneeze or cough, and when she fell in the final mile, her sons, who had accompanied her, suggested they just walk the rest of the way.
“She just moaned, ‘run,’ ” her son, Kevin Moeller said. “She couldn’t speak, so she pointed her hand. Like, ‘Run.’ ”
They ran. They finished. In October, Carol, 67, of Westbury, died of bulbar palsy, an ALS-type degenerative disease that, in a few short months, stripped a healthy marathoner and a grandmother of six of her upper-motor function.
In 29 years, Moeller missed competing in Long Island Marathon events only once, in the ’90s due to an injury, Kevin Moeller said. But thanks to the efforts of her sons, it doesn’t mean she won’t be there this weekend.
“We Are Carol Moeller,” a fundraising group honoring Moeller and her love of running, will hit the pavement Sunday, with 18 people from all over the country running the 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. In a little over a month, they’ve raised more than $22,000 for the ALS foundation, well beyond their original goal of $1,000 — all, Carol’s sons said, a testament to how many lives she bettered.
Donations can be made by following a link on the WeAreCarolMoeller Facebook page.
They are deeply grateful, the sons said, and extremely touched.
Despite Carol’s best efforts, her three sons never took much to running, but Kevin, 38, and Brian, 39, will be there for the 10K, while Dennis — at 34, the youngest — will run the full marathon.
Dennis said that he has cried thinking about his mom almost every time he has done a training run for Sunday.
“Any time I’m hurting,” Dennis said, “I think of what my mom went through. When she was running [last year], she was days away from a feeding-tube surgery. She ran six miles. If my mother can do that, there’s no reason I can’t do anything.”
Dennis is the one who came up with the idea, saying it “felt like I owed it to her to do as much as I could.”
She’d be miffed, he said fondly, about the 30 pounds he lost training.
Carol’s death devastated her family. She was her sons’ greatest cheerleader and deeply involved in the lives of her grandchildren, Kevin said. “To this day, I wake up and say, What happened to us? What happened to her?” he said.
Strangers have told them how much Carol did for them, and many of the hundreds of donations have come from those very people. Months before she died, she asked her husband to bring her to the bank, because she wanted to give a woman there some special hand cream, Brian said, caught somewhere between a laugh and a cry.
“It’s hard,” Brian said. “It’s really hard. Certain things set you off that you didn’t think would.”
Some of it comes from knowing that the grandchildren won’t be able to know their grandmother like they did, Brian said. The fundraiser slideshow shows dozens of pictures of Carol’s gleaming smile, of her playing with her grandchildren and hugging her sons.
Bulbar palsy is cruel in the way that it takes away your ability to smile, or to emote much at all, so the pictures from after the disease don’t convey Carol’s personality the way those of her healthy self do. It’s part of the motivation for their run.
Once she could not speak, Moeller used a notepad to communicate.
“She would just write, ‘This is unfair,’ ” Kevin said. “No one plans for their demise. No one wishes this on anyone. I hope we can raise funds and awareness.”
Raising research money with the marathon was a no-brainer, since “it was her happiest day of the year,” Brian said. The house would be full, and she would cook egg sandwiches for everyone, even before showering from whatever race she ran. They’d barely have time to digest before she started on lunch, he said.
Things became even more special in recent years, because her sons — not without some cajoling — agreed to join her in her races. Grandchildren would wave as they passed by in their white shirts, emblazoned with “Moeller Running Affair.” Carol’s greatest happiness came at the end, when the family got together at the finish line, a tradition.
“She just wanted to be in the picture at the end,” Kevin said, tearing up when he remembers the family’s last run. As the finish line approached, they all came together. “It was purely spontaneous — all of us linking arms and finishing together.”
Carol Moeller will not get to run on Sunday, but thanks to the efforts of her sons and 15 others, she certainly will be in the picture.