Early on Sunday morning, Sam Van Why will get on his bike and ride 46 miles in the shadow of the Rockies. Although an avid long-distance cyclist, this weekend's ride isn't routine. For the third consecutive year, Sam will be participating in the Ride to End ALZ®. This time, in honor of his wife, Donna, who he lost to Alzheimer's in December.
Sam is no stranger to dementia. In the early 2000's, Sam's mother, Lucille, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Witnessing his mother's gradual decline was a heartbreaking experience as she succumbed to the disease. Sam faced yet another devastating blow when his brother, Duane, received an Alzheimer's diagnosis. A few years later, Duane's wife, Bev was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia. Both Duane and Bev have since passed away.
Having lost so many loved ones to Alzheimer's and other dementia, Sam's resolve to end this disease is stronger than ever. As he takes on each mile during Sunday's ride, it will be with purpose. He will be riding to fund research. He will be riding to raise awareness. He will be riding in hopes that other families won't have to travel the same journey with Alzheimer's that he has.
A Chain of Loss
Not the route he expected:
Only a few months before his brother passed away in 2016, Donna's primary care physician suspected she had Alzheimer's, which came as a surprise. Given his family history with the disease, Sam had always thought, "I would be the one that Donna would be caring for."
The weight of Donna's diagnosis was heavy, leaving Sam more determined than ever to make a difference for the family they built together. His hope is that their children and grandchildren do not have to face this disease again.
Finding his Second Wind Through Cycling
Donna and Sam were avid outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking to riding, they took in all the beautiful outdoor excursions that their home state of Colorado offered.
When Ride to End ALZ Colorado started in 2021, Sam found his true community that combined both his hobby and his passion for change. For Sam, Ride to End ALZ has become much more than a fundraising event — when Donna was alive, the rhythmic motion of pedaling and the rush of wind against his face provided a breather from the weight of caregiving. "Biking became my key respite," Sam explains.
Sam's experience is not unique. He has witnessed firsthand how Ride to End ALZ impacts family caregivers. It offers them a rare opportunity to experience success, find moments of joy, feel supported and get a reprieve from the demanding role of caregiving. While Alzheimer's takes an enormous toll on both those living with the disease and caregivers, Ride becomes a source of strength and rejuvenation.
A Month of Milestones
The month of June holds significant milestones for Sam, but they are bittersweet without Donna by his side. On June 18, he and Donna would have celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary — a milestone that will be marked with both joy and sorrow. Additionally, on June 23, Sam will turn 75, a testament to a life filled with love, loss and resilience.
As Sam approaches his birthday, his greatest wish is to receive support for his Ride to End ALZ efforts in honor of Donna. This year, Donna's Team has become a refuge for his grieving heart.
Crossing the finish line for Donna
Sam's commitment to make a difference for those facing Alzheimer's and other dementia doesn't end with his participation in the Ride to End ALZ. He also volunteers as an Alzheimer's Association Support Group Facilitator and Community Educator.
Prior to Donna's passing, Sam had agreed to do a "Healthy Living for your Brain and Body" presentation in his community. The presentation was scheduled just a few days after Donna's death. Even though he was dealing with such a recent and painful loss, Sam gave the presentation knowing that Donna would have wanted him to continue spreading awareness about Alzheimer's.
Donna's memory continues to guide and inspire Sam. Her selfless nature and commitment to helping others have become a driving force in his commitment to provide education and support to others facing the challenges of Alzheimer's. Sam's determination to honor Donna's legacy through his participation in the Ride to End ALZ and his unwavering support for research exemplify the strength and resilience of their love.
About: Sam lives in Castle Rock, Colorado, with his dog Bella. He is a volunteer Community Educator and Support Group Facilitator for the Alzheimer's Association and also is a member of the Ride to End Alzeimer's Colorado committee. Sam retired from being a full-time professor at the College of Financial Planning in 2017 to be Donna's caretaker. Sam cared for Donna in their home until she passed away on December 8, 2022. Sam enjoys time in the outdoors with Bella, cycling and spending time with his children and grandchildren.