Over the past week, a friend of mine, “Superman” Steve Schwalbach, has been running across the state of Florida (coast-t0-coast) to raise awareness and funding for research into Alzheimer’s Disease.
He calls the effort: “Jackie’s Run” – an event he plans, organizes, and runs (supported by friends and volunteers) largely solo; Run in the honor and memory of his mother, Jackie. Jackie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2001. Superman and his family were thrown into a world where their loving mother often didn’t recognize them, but knew that something was wrong and couldn’t place what it was. Caregivers suffer as much as patients with the disease. As the disease becomes more debilitating, the families are often forced to put the loved one in assisted living. Superman recalled seeing his mother bed-ridden and wishing there was something he could do to help, to ease. He felt powerless.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist to come up with some crazy drug…I want to help my Mom some how.” Superman said.
Superman turned to the thing he does best: Running. He decided to put his skill and passion to work to help the people who are doctors and scientists so they could solve the disease and come up with a cure.
Three years ago, Superman ran from southern boarder-to- northern boarder across the Commonwealth of Kentucky as the inaugural “Jackie’s Run”. He raised $12,000 that year. Last year, he crossed the state of Ohio, Northern boarder to Southern boarder…finishing both state runs with a victory lap past his mother’s home.
In March 2015 Superman was extending a cool-down run after pacing a local race when he got a call from a friend,
“I’m sorry for your loss, man” the tear-filled caller said.
“What loss?” Superman, who had just completed a successful pacing run, was confused. It was then he learned that while he was doing the thing he loved, running, his mother passed away. Superman grieved. He grieved hard. But while he grieved, he doubled his efforts to help find a cure or treatment for the disease that took his mother’s last years from her.
Starting last week on March 11th, Superman began the journey across his third state. Florida is an important spot for him – his family has property in the area of Longboat Key, and he has many fond memories of family trips to the area. It’s at Lido Beach that he intended to complete this challenge.
Running from Daytona Beach to Lido was no easy feat. A total of 226 miles over 8 days in Florida temps with Florida wildlife and some mileage on the shoulder of a roadway not normally meant for pedestrian traffic. Superman relied on volunteers and family and friends who were able to work their schedules to meet up with him. Those volunteers would meet him at set points to give him water, electrolytes, food, and reapply sunscreen. As day temps reached 90F, and Superman was pounding out the miles, varying from 25-33 each day, he reflected during the hard moments on why he was out there.
I managed to pull off a last minute flight to join Superman for his last day of running. Still sore from my marathon the Sunday before, I was confident that I could keep Superman company and motivated to reach his goal at the the appointed time.
Superman, his cousin, and I ticked off the first 8-9 miles quickly. The air was still pretty cool as the sun rose, but it turned humid and thick quickly. We were joined by a local area runner, a complete stranger to all of us, who read about the effort in the local running club’s newsletter and decided that she wanted to be a part of the effort. Other runners joined on and off, and the local running club leader held an impromptu coke, chips, and beer stop for us.
For a man who had run a marathon or more for the last seven days, Superman was moving well. When asked how he felt, the answer was “stiff, but excited. Lets get this done.” He was an unwavering force. And why wouldn’t he be? He was a man on a mission. Driven.
We weaved along roadways, answering questions and sharing the meaning of the shirts: “END ALZ” with drivers or pedestrians who asked. Even as the mileage began to wear on me (I’m injury-prone, remember? Two marathons within a week pretty much destroyed me…though, I think it was my shoe choice for the second one that did me in…) Superman was tired, but showed no signs of stopping.
The day was beautiful. Superman had a whole week of beautiful running. Even when the run got tough and he was out there by himself for some miles, he managed to tough it out and take in the sights. He said this run was the best, just simply because he didn’t know the area. Everything was new to him until this last day. Now, running on his own stomping grounds, he felt revitalized and strong.
When it was time to cross the “largest hill in Florida” -as one runner referred to it (Bless those flatlanders), we were joined by a small group of more local runners. Shirts were handed out and we took off. Eventually we were weaving through crowds of people and “around the circle” toward Lido Beach, Superman’s finish line. The boardwalk to the sand was lined with people in purple, and balloons, and Superman’s family. They cheered extra loud as he sprinted through them, his goal to run into the ocean. He dusted across the sand of the beach, the rest of us sliding and struggling behind him. Hitting the water, he threw his arms up into the air and cried out in triumph.
Observers on the beach cheered with us before asking what was going on. Once they were filled in people stood out of their chairs and came up to Superman from all along the beach to shake his hand and congratulate him. Superman was on cloud 9.
Hours later, after the after-party, and after the runners got some real food in their bodies, Superman walked back to his car. Still on a high from the week’s conclusion, but a little more somber. He held the bunch of purple balloons from the finish line. After a moment of silence, he released them to the sky, watching them float and fighting tears. A long moment of reflection and he turned to me asking, “So? Indiana, California or Texas? Which one is next?”
Superman is going to run this country. He’s going to keep pushing state by state, until some kind of break through is found for Alzheimer’s Disease, or until he has all 50 and has to take on a greater challenge. And he will. Because he has purpose and drive. And the support of runners and family – close friends and complete strangers – every where he goes.
No. Superman said he never did see an alligator while he was running. Our small group had some hopes to see one…though I don’t think any of us knew what we would do if we had.
His Florida run has raised nearly $5,000, and there is still time to help him raise more.
California and Texas are not going to happen in 2017… but it’s now a choice between Indiana, which is likelier, and Georgia, along the coast – which I’m pushing for.