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Coming out strong to fight ALS

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Evan Weidenhamer cuts the ribbon for the 2017 Down East Walk to Defeat ALS at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at East Carolina University in Greenville on Saturday.

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Shannon Keith

Monday, April 17, 2017

Friends and family of East Carolina University professor Nelson Cooper, who last year was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, came out strong Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — CoopStrong.

“We were on a mission today,” said Michele Mazey, one of the more than 150 members of the CoopStrong team at Saturday’s Down East Walk to Defeat ALS. “This is our team’s first year, and we wanted to start out with a bang.”

Mazey said the team’s goal was to raise at least $5,000 for the ALS Association to support ALS research and support programs for people diagnosed with the disease. As of Saturday morning, the team had raised more than $11,000.

“Once we went past $5,000, our goal was to raise at least 10 percent of this year’s goal for the Greenville walk,” Mazey said. “We went past that, too. ... We are really excited about this.”

Saturday was the 17th annual Down East Walk to Defeat ALS in Greenville. The North Carolina chapter of the ALS Association is holding six walks across the state this year in hopes of raising $1.2 million to support care service programs, research and to promote awareness of ALS. Other walks in North Carolina are being held in Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. 

“Greenville is one of our original walks and one that is so important to the organization,” said Melanie McCullough, communications and marketing manager for the North Carolina chapter of the ALS Association. “This community is so supportive. ... The people here are incredible.”

McCullough said this is the second year that the event has been held at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. McCullough said more than 700 participants from nearly 40 teams were at the event on Saturday.

“Attendance is up from last year,” she said Saturday. “And we have a beautiful day for it.”

McCullough said ECU has been “amazing” in its support of the event. Cooper is an associate professor of recreation and park management at East Carolina University, and former ECU baseball coach Keith LeClair died from the disease in 2006 at age 40.

“Nelson Cooper and Coach LeClair are so beloved in the community,” McCullough said. “There are a lot of people out here today honoring them.”

Jim Glenn, a member of Team Janstastics from Oriental, is raising funds for each of the six walks in North Carolina this year as well as two walks in other states.

“I lost my wife in October to ALS,” Glenn said Saturday. “We figured we wouldn’t limit ourselves to just one walk. ... We would do all that we could to fight this disease.”

Glenn said that his team will raise at least $1,000 for each of the eight walks they will attend this year.

“We will be back next year, too,” Glenn said. 

Jerry Dawson, president of the North Carolina chapter of the ALS Association, said that the goal for this year’s walk in Greenville was $90,000. As of Saturday, more than $87,000 had been raised.

“We were way ahead of pace before today’s walk,” Dawson said. “We were feeling pretty optimistic that we would meet and surpass this year’s goal. To put it in perspective, we raised $85,000 last year in Greenville and about $68,000 had been raised by the day of the walk.

“We might raise more than $100,000 this year,” Dawson said. “We are really excited.”

Dawson, an ECU graduate, said the “giving spirit” of people in Greenville has not changed since he went to college here.

“Greenville is such an important place for us,” Dawson said. “The people in this city always turn out and make me proud that I am a Pirate.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com and 329-9579.

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