On May 19, 2011, Glenn Caffery, age 49, set out from Seaside, Ore., to run 3,312 miles across the country to Westerly, R.I. He is running to honor his father—Dick Caffery—whom he lost to Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, and to raise money to help find a cure for this devastating illness. “Watching my father suffer made me feel so helpless,” says Caffery. “Since he’s passed away, I’ve felt like I needed to do something to help, and running across the country felt like something.”
Caffery’s father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 55 in 1989. At the time, neither Glenn, his mother or his two sisters had any knowledge of the disease. According to Caffery, “my father was always high performing and good at masking his symptoms, so none of us ever suspected anything.” For a couple of years he says his dad seemed to be his same old loving dad, except for his memory issues, but then his progression was pretty rapid. He stopped sleeping and became increasingly agitated and paranoid. “My mom bore much more than she ever should have,” says Caffery. “But she was always a passionate advocate for my dad, as were many of his friends.”
A seasoned long-distance runner, Caffery recently underwent surgery for his arthritic hip. With the school year ending at UMass Amherst, where he teaches in the Department of Resource Economics, he decided the time was now or never. “When my dad was alive,” he says, “I was really busy with my family and my job. When he died I wasn’t able to process the whole experience. A big element of my cross-country run is to finally have a chance to do that.” Caffery is hoping to meet people from all walks of life who have been touched by Alzheimer’s and hear their stories.
Caffery has run his share of marathons and his body has naturally good endurance, but this run is different—both physically and mentally. His plan is to run about 50 miles a day for 10 weeks at what he calls a comfortable pace, and finish at the end of July. “You can’t train to run 50 miles a day,” he says, “but a lot of conditioning will happen in the early stages of my run. Unlike a marathon, which takes a toll on the body, this kind of running—‘ultra running’—respects your body more.” He has mapped out his route across the United States and will stop in Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, Mich., where his two daughters live, and in Wallingford, Conn., where his mother still resides. He will be running with no support, using only a jog stroller for supplies and camping equipment and staying with friends or people he meets along the way.
“I’m stunned by how little money goes to Alzheimer’s research given the magnitude of the pain, the burden and the numbers of people who suffer from it,” says Caffery. “I chose to donate all the money I raise to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF) because every single dollar will go to fund research.” Because of his father’s experience with Alzheimer’s, Caffery is incredibly motivated to stop Alzheimer’s so it doesn’t affect his daughters. “It’s been frustrating how many dead ends there have been, but in the last few years it seems like we’ve turned a corner,” he says. His wife, mother, sisters and daughters are all supporting him in their own ways and, says Caffery, “my dad will always be with me as well.”
As of July 27, Glenn was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can follow his progress at alzrun.org and join his fundraising efforts by making a donation to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund at www.curealzfund.org/donate.