By Sherry Clarke
My name is Sherry Clarke and I’m from Lake Tapps, Washington (about an hour south of Seattle). I’m a born-and-raised Washingtonian and have lived in the Lake Tapps area for about 13 years with my husband and two kids, ages 6 and 4. I’m a stay-at-home mom and a freelance graphic designer.
This year for The Longest Day, I am running for my dad, Wayne. I chose running for my activity for The Longest Day because it was something he loved and that we loved to do together. I have many memories of going to weekend races as a family and it became a “running joke” (pun intended) that the Donaldson crew always took home age-division awards across the board. We always did it for fun, there was never any pressure, and it’s still something that brings our family together. My mom, sister and I all still run and will get together at races multiple times a year to run together. It’s a common bond and just something we all love to do, so it made perfect sense for me to pick running as my activity for The Longest Day.
My dad Wayne
It’s hard to know where to begin when telling someone about my dad. My dad, Wayne, was one of the kindest, smartest, funniest and most hard-working men I’ve ever known. He was the Director of Audits for the Washington Department of Transportation and worked for state or federal agencies for the majority of his career. He was born in Elma, Washington, graduated from Washington State University and settled in the Lacey/Olympia area in the late 70s.
My dad always made time for his family, whether it was taking time off of work to come to a school performance, helping out at baseball practice, on the sidelines at a track meet or cheering me on at a tennis match. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed hiking, backpacking, camping, skiing or doing pretty much any activity he could in the wilderness. He also loved running (and got my mom into running) and was a nine-time marathoner, having raced all over Washington, Hawaii, Canada and many other places. He introduced my siblings and me to running and, from what I can remember, always made it fun for us.
I have so many memories of my dad from when I was a kid, but I think some of the best are of when he was just being goofy with his kids, teaching us something new (especially outdoor-related; he could talk on end about camping or any other related topic) or just how friendly and kind he was to everyone. He wasn’t afraid to embarrass himself if it made his kids laugh and I loved that about him.
As an adult, my biggest memory with him was when I was married and both he and my mom walked me down the aisle at our ceremony. Our father-daughter dance is also very special to me, even though we were both bawling the entire time. We were both so happy to have been able to have that moment together but both knew that our time together wouldn’t last forever. To this day, I can’t listen to “My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw without tearing up.
I remember being away at college at the end of my senior year in 2006, and talking with my mom about how my dad had been demoted from his job. He had been the Director of Audits for 13 years for the Washington Department of Transportation and was a Certified Fraud Examiner, and it just didn’t make sense that he would get demoted “out of nowhere.” We didn’t really understand the demotion, and he was placed in a lower-level position where he was taking old accounting records and digitizing them for the digital archive. He had a hard time reading the records because the ink was faded and small, and it was hard for him to translate them the way he was instructed to. Now, in hindsight (because it’s always 20/20, right?) these would have been some pretty big red flags that maybe something else was going on — but he was 55 at the time, healthy, active, in great shape, actively using his brain at work. He didn’t fit any sort of profile that he might be (or had already developed) some sort of brain disease.
Dad ended up retiring from his job shortly after. My biggest memory of when I knew something wasn’t right was in December of 2006 when he came to visit me (and my now husband) at our apartment in Seattle and he got lost. He had always had a great sense of direction, whether it was when he was driving or out hiking or skiing, he always had a good sense of where he was or which way he needed to go. So, when I heard from my mom that he got lost trying to find our apartment in Seattle – streets he’d driven many times – we were all frustrated, not knowing that this was actually something much more serious than just missing a few turns.
Mom became his caregiver
Because my mom was living with him, she saw many more warning signs that something wasn’t right and he agreed to go see a doctor. After several tests, he was officially diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in June 2007. There are moments that stick with you forever and I’ll never forget the moment I was at work and found out that he had Alzheimer’s. It was completely shocking and devastating, and I just remember crying — a lot. I was also flooded with thoughts: “What is Alzheimer’s? How could this happen? He’s healthy, young, fit and just a good guy. This isn’t fair. What happens next?” There were so many unknowns thrown at us like a 90-mile-an-hour curveball, and we felt like we were standing at the plate without a bat.
My mom took on the primary role of caregiver for my dad after he was diagnosed. She continued to work for about another year before she decided it was best for her to retire too, so she could spend as much time with my dad while he was still somewhat healthy. They went camping, took a cruise to Alaska (something they’d always wanted to do) and just tried to keep collecting as many memories as possible before the disease progressed more. In the spring of 2010, I started taking time off work each week to go visit them in Olympia (or they would come to me) so that I could give my mom a break and also visit with my dad. She did an amazing job trying to handle the caregiver, wife and mom duties, but it eventually got to the point where she physically couldn’t take care of him anymore. She is a 5-foot tall petite lady and my dad was a 6’3 very tall guy … and he needed more help caring for himself than she was able to provide.
Mom made the very tough decision to move him to a memory care community in the fall of 2010. In November of 2011, four days before my mom’s 60th birthday, she suffered a very severe stroke. We are so thankful we didn’t lose her. She spent her birthday in the hospital, not celebrating with her family and friends at a surprise party I had been planning for her. The whole situation was devastating and I found myself now being responsible for not only my dad but now my mom, who was recovering from a stroke and suffering from serious apraxia and aphasia (the inability to process thoughts and the inability to take those thoughts and turn them into speech). It was a very, very hard time for our family and there are parts of it that feel like a complete blur. I was 23 when my dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and 28 when my mom had a stroke. I never ever thought I’d be losing (or on the verge of losing) both of my parents before the age of 30.
My dad passed away on Feb. 2, 2012 at the age of 61.
My mom is doing better today. She went to many months of speech therapy and even attended a summer-long intense therapy retreat in Canada. Thankfully, the stroke did not affect her mobility and she still runs at least once a week, plays tennis twice a week and is on a senior bowling league. Her speech never fully returned and she still struggles to find words and with speaking in general, but she’s always been determined to not let it get in her way.
Join me for The Longest Day
I’m very involved with the online running community on Instagram and hope to encourage others to join me in a running/walking streak from June 6 – June 20. I’d love to see how many miles we, as a community can get in during those two weeks, tracking the miles using the hashtag #MilesForAlz. I am planning on sharing facts about Alzheimer’s to help raise awareness as well as encourage people to make a donation.
I’m personally putting together a “prize pack” that I’ll award after June 20. Each person who dedicates a few of their miles, running or walking, and uses the hashtag #MilesForAlz will be entered to win a prize pack of The Longest Day and running-related items. The drawing will be at random, but each “run/walk” where the hashtag is used will count as an additional entry so the more times a person runs or walks, the more entries they could earn.
I run simply because I love it and I run because it reminds me of my dad. I hope that there is a cure or treatment found for Alzheimer’s in my lifetime because watching my dad fade from the disease was one of the hardest things we ever had to do.
Want to plan your own event or turn your hobby into a fundraiser for The Longest Day? Visit alz.org/tld for more information!
STATEMENT REGARDING COVID-19: The Alzheimer’s Association is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19. Our top priorities are the health and safety of our participants, volunteers, staff and constituents. The Longest Day is currently moving forward as planned. We recommend that participants continue with virtual fundraising efforts and adhere to CDC guidelines when planning in-person fundraising activities. For specific inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.