Organizing a bicycle ride of more than 250 miles is no small task, but the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association makes it happen each year.
“It takes a committee. Right after this event we’ll start meeting for next year,” said Chapter President/CEO Cindy Alewine. “We have great volunteers. They take ownership of various parts of the work, and everyone works together as a team.”
More than 300 riders are taking part in the eighth annual “A Ride to Remember,” which ends Sunday afternoon in Mt. Pleasant after a Friday start in Simpsonville and overnight stops in Newberry and Orangeburg along the way.
The event had raised more than $300,000 as of Saturday, with donations still arriving. The riders, who each raised a minimum of $500, included veterans of many rides along with newcomers like Angela Dillard, who joined her husband Matt as a rider after helping him from behind the scenes for years. Preparing to ride is no easier a task than organizing the ride. The Dillards trained for “A couple months of maybe 120-130 miles a week, getting used to the heat,” Matt said. Angela, smiling at a snack stop in the town of North, said the measure of success for her was simple. “I’m alive, so I’m good, I’m happy!”
The stops along the way were the work of volunteers, and drew rave reviews from the riders. “This is the best supported ride I’ll do all year,” Matt Dillard said. Saturday morning in North, the town hall became a sandwich stop, as volunteers arrived more than an hour before the first riders. Every detail was taken care of, from a wide selection of handmade sandwiches and other snacks to ice, drinks, and cold towels.
The other stops were also well supplied, with help from many sponsors, including Morningside Senior Living Community and Riverside Rehabilitation Center, who provided lunch for all the riders Saturday in Orangeburg. The full list of sponsors is available here.
“This is the best supported ride in at least South Carolina, and it’s all because of the volunteers coming and doing it all for us,” said veteran rider Will Joyner. “They’re our lifeline. They really are,” added Angela Dillard.
Former North Mayor Earl Jeffcoat has supported the race each year. Standing at the picnic table outside the town hall Saturday, he spoke about the growth of the event. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “The first year I was walking from my house to our tax office up the street and I saw six or eight people sitting at this table. I walked over and introduced myself and found out what was going on.” The race has grown from 15-20 first year riders to this year’s throng.
North Town Councilwoman Deborah Cook also came out to show support. Like many of the riders, she has personal experience with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Her mother passed away earlier this year, and as a nurse, Cook said “I see Alzheimer’s and dementia patients every day almost, or someone affected by it, caregivers and all. It is a cause that’s very dear to my heart.”
Joyner started riding in honor of his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. He rode solo for three years, then was joined by his girlfriend. The two rode a tandem bicycle for all 250-plus miles in her second year, and it was a defining moment for them. “It didn’t scare me off so I got engaged to her after that,” he said with a laugh.
With 84,000 people in South Carolina and more than 5 million nationwide living with Alzheimer’s, nearly everyone has a personal connection. Many riders wore bibs saying “I ride for…” with the name of a loved one. Alewine pointed out that in addition to the money raised, the riders do a lot to raise awareness of the disease as they pass through town after town from the Upstate through the Midlands to the Low Country.
“We are so grateful for the riders in this event and for the volunteers who make the ride logistically possible,” said Ashton Houghton, Vice President of Development for the Alzheimer’s Association South Carolina Chapter. “Their dedication mirrors that of caregivers across the state who persevere in the fight against Alzheimer’s every day. The funds they’ve raised will provide local support services in South Carolina, as well as support Alzheimer’s research efforts at the national level through the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Featured image: a group of riders arrives in North (photo by Allen Wallace)