Don Cook is not easily swayed when he sets his sights on something he wants. And he is not letting the crisis that COVID-19 has created slow him down. Passionate about riding "Together Yet Apart" for the Alzheimer’s Association Ride to End ALZ, on June 14, Don will put on his purple jersey and ride solo, practicing social distancing, while remembering the woman he calls “the love of my life and my best friend.”
Don’s Story: In His Own Words
When I saw Carol for the first time, I thought she was gorgeous. My friend told me: “She is way out of your league.” I would not be deterred. It was magic. It was love at first sight. I knew if I didn’t ask her to marry me, someone else would. We were married at the local courthouse at 4 p.m. on a random Thursday. I was 20 and she was 26.
Once we were married, it was just me and her. I wasn't hanging with buddies, she wasn’t hanging with girlfriends. It was just the two of us, all of the time.
When Carol was in her late 50s, the signs of Alzheimer’s began, around 2008. She would leave the car running in the garage or let water boil over on the stovetop. She had issues with driving her car and would forget how to get home. Once we had her diagnosis, things only got worse. I lost my best friend.
Carol passed away on October 13, 2016. While these last few years without her have been heartwrenching, I know I am no longer alone. As part of the Alzheimer's Association Ride to End ALZ community, I’m part of a group impacting the momentum behind the fight to end Alzheimer's, with 100% of dollars raised funding Alzheimer’s research. And this is about much more than a one-day ride. It is truly a community, one that stays in contact during these times of crisis, using phone and video conferencing to help encourage all riders who are so committed to this cause.
When I met Carol, I was wearing cowboy boots. She thought I was a farm boy. We both loved riding horses, so we leased 40 acres of land. For years, our entertainment was the horses. We were in northeast Denver at the time, with wide open country perfect for a 20-mile bike ride.
After we were no longer able to ride our horses, cycling became our new activity. As a form of training, I would pull Carol up the hills, so we were always together. Just me and her. We were purchasing a Schwinn for my daughter when Carol decided she wanted to ride, too. Years ago, it was safe to take long rides down the roads around Boulder, Colorado. We got very serious about it! I did a week-long ride in the Rocky Mountains and spent 15 years riding for a variety of charitable causes.
I stopped riding for about 10 years after Carol lost her good health. I didn't want to leave her alone and, to be honest, I wasn’t used to doing anything on my own.
The Alzheimer's Association Ride to End ALZ is a cycling event to directly impact the pace and momentum behind the fight to end Alzheimer's, with 100% of dollars raised funding research.
It felt like my destiny when I saw the Alzheimer’s Association sign and then met the staff of the Alzheimer’s Association Ride to End ALZ at a cycling event. I was sucked in like a moth to a flame! I needed to know more. I needed to do more. I hate Alzheimer’s so much, and I will do anything I can to fundraise toward research for a cure to end this disease for good.
As a caregiver, I didn’t ask for help until it was too late. I want other caregivers to know that your good health matters, and you must take care of you. Through the Ride to End ALZ, I am now taking care of me and remembering the woman who gave me so much. It’s time to get the wheels turning again, and while riding is going to be so bittersweet, my passion drives me to remember Carol the best way I know how.
Near the end of her life, Carol only referred to me as “Husband.” I miss you, Carol. Our love was very special. Today I am sad when I look at the empty space in my bed and you aren’t there. Today I see couples walking hand-in-hand and I know that Alzheimer’s stole those moments from us. While I miss the “way back when,” I know I have to keep going, for you.
For all those moments that tear us up and apart, we need to fight to keep going, keep riding — together.
This is the picture I have on my nightstand next to my bed. The picture is the first thing I see every morning and the last thing every night; I even take it with me when I travel. We were married 25 years when it was taken by my daughter, who said that we “still look and act just like newlyweds.”
About: Don also plans to bring his passion to the Texas Hill Country Ride to End ALZ on October 11. Visit his virtual Ride page dedicated to his June event here.