BANGOR, Maine — Four years ago, it was Janice Von Brook, her daughter Carol, two friends, and a strong desire to create a promotional fundraising event to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
That initial effort attracting 100 walkers led to Saturday’s fourth annual Bangor Walk to Defeat ALS, which drew more than 300 walkers for the 1.3- and 2.3-mile benefit walks.
The walks started at Hayford Park on Thirteenth Street around a large block pattern on Union Street and back across to Hammond and then back to the park to raise money to fund research to find treatment and a cure for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“There were a few of us four years ago, and myself and Lisa Kingsbury had husbands with ALS,” said Von Brook, who is the Bangor Walk chairwoman as well as chief financial officer administrative assistant at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. “It’s a fight and it’s a disease with no cure, so what we can do is help the fight by raising money.”
Von Brook went from four organizers, Heather Cyr was the fourth, 100 walkers and a handful of volunteers raising $30,000 the first year to Saturday’s high of 353 walkers with 40 volunteers and what looks to be another $50,000.
Last year, 316 walkers raised just over $50,000. Von Brook’s daughter is hopeful for a record revenue total.
“Based on money from online registrations and money collected at the walk, I believe we’ll at least meet our goal of $50,000,” said Carol Lamb, assistant to a vice president for fundraising with The Jackson Laboratory which was represented by four teams among the 25 total in the walk. Jackson Lab has a significant connection to the walk that goes beyond its four teams.
“Greg Cox is a researcher and after hearing we’re doing this, he made up his own team,” said Lamb. “We started a repository of mice at the lab devoted to ALS research and now we share the research, so labs all over the world aren’t duplicating the same research.”
Before the race, Dr. Greg Cox and Dr. Cathy Lutz from Jackson Lab addressed participants and said they are optimistic their research can eventually find a cure.
It’s that kind of optimism that keeps participants like Flo Lizzotte, a retired waitress living in Brewer, coming back every year. Lizzotte has raised more than $4,000 over the last few years and was the third-highest fundraiser Saturday with $1,830.
“My son, James Kingsbury, has ALS and when he first found out, he and Lisa got involved in the ALS Foundation,” Lizzotte said. “Usually the same people are doing it each year, and it’s almost like a family. You help each other out and talk about it. And there are always new faces each year.”
The walk took on a bittersweet tone before the start and after the finish as Von Brook and Lamb recounted the death of active ALS fundraiser and walk participant Harold Brownell, Jr., who died from complications due to ALS Aug. 21, just six days before the walk.
The 70-year-old car enthusiast from Glenburn was still the walk’s top fundraiser for a second straight year with $4,918 in pledges. His “Beat ALS” team was the top team fundraiser with more than $10,000 in pledges.
The 25 teams walking Saturday was also a high for the event.
“I think that is important because it shows just how many people are affected by this disease as the teams are usually dedicated to an individual who has it or died from it,” said Lamb, whose own father — George Miller of Hampden — is battling the disease.
“He is doing OK. He seems to be regressing very slowly and he’s a farmer so he’s tough,” Lamb said. “He has trouble walking, but he still gets up on the tractor every day to do the haying.”