TUSCUMBIA — There’s a purpose in every step Jack Fussell takes.
Fussell, 62, of Rock, Ga., has set a goal of reaching Monterey, Calif. He strives every day to get closer to that goal as he runs his way across the U.S.
“This is not a race; this is an effort to bring awareness to a problem that we all need to get behind,” Fussell said during a stop Thursday at Coldwater Inn in Tuscumbia. “I want people to know what Alzheimer’s disease is all about and try and get more involvement in the education and let people know where to find help, information and services.”
Fussell began his trek Jan. 12, leaving Skid Island State Park on the Atlantic coast in Georgia. He will travel through 13 states on his journey to California.
Fussell is an avid runner. He said he had five major running goals and that took five years to complete.
“Once I finished them, I was looking for something else to devote my time to doing,” Fussell said. “I felt empty. I started praying, and it just came to me that I was going to run across the country.”
He said his father died in 2000 from Alzheimer’s, as did six of his brothers and sisters.
“So, I decided what better way to bring awareness to this disease than to run for it.”
Fussell wears a bright green shirt, with a purple outline of the U.S., as he runs.
He said it is rare when someone doesn’t stop and want to talk with him.
“I had 17 people stop me one day outside of Dalton, Ga.,” Fussell said. “Once they found out what I’m doing, they wanted to share their own stories of how Alzheimer’s has affected their lives.” Annette Parker, president of the local Coalition of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders of Northwest Alabama, said someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds.
“So, the number of people who have this disease is astronomical,” she said.
Alzheimer’s Association data show there are 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause of death for those 65 and older.
Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 killers in America without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression, according to the association.
“People kind of put this disease by the wayside,” Parker said. “It is a very serious disease, and we need to do all we can to bring light to it. What Mr. Fussell is doing really speaks well of him and what he is willing to do.” Fussell said he hopes his efforts will persuade people to get involved in Alzheimer’s research.
“A person with Alzheimer’s affects their family beyond imagination,” Fussell said.
He said he averages about 20 miles day while pushing a 60-pound jogging stroller that carries a tent and his belongings.
His son assigned the name “Wilson” to Fussell’s stroller, in reference to the soccer ball that became Tom Hanks’ companion in the movie, “Castaway.”
“So, it’s me and Wilson out there together,” said Fussell, who is retired. He previously worked in air conditioning repair, insurance sales and the retail business.
He said he left on the trip prepared to spend 90 percent of the nights in a tent, but that hasn’t happened so far.
“I’ve spent one day in a tent. When people find out what I am doing, they have given me a place to stay,” he said. “While I’m running, I have people passing, honking their horns or waving at me. It’s really encouraging for me and it has renewed by trust in humanity.”
He said the encouragement and his goal keep him moving toward the finish.
“We need more people willing to step up and be an advocate (for Alzheimer’s),” Parker said. “I hope the message he is sending helps get more people involved.”
“That’s what I’m after,” Fussell said. “I want people to support the effort and learn more about this disease,” Fussell said. The public can follow Fussell’s trip on acrosstheland2013.com. He said he hopes to complete the trip by September.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.
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