The Longest Day is all about love! On the summer solstice, people select any activity they love — or an activity loved by those affected by Alzheimer’s disease — to help raise funds and awareness to help end Alzheimer’s.
Two sisters from Decorah, Iowa are fighting to end Alzheimer's on behalf of their father Dale, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 57. Most of Brecka and Shanna’s The Longest Day teammates are honoring or remembering someone special to them, as all of them have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease in one way or another. Although the sisters know that there won't be a cure in their dad's lifetime, they are fighting to make sure that there is a cure in theirs!
Joining the fight
“Dad is an avid cyclist and I have always enjoyed riding with him and his friends. The Longest Day allows us to do something he loves while honoring him and raising funds to take down Alzheimer’s – what could be better?!” says Shanna.
“We don't do anything less than 100%, so we loved the freedom to go as big as our dreams by picking a meaningful activity and a time that works with our schedules,” Brecka says on The Longest Day event’s flexibility.
Preparing for the day-of
The sisters had an easy time choosing the activity of cycling. “Dad once completed a triple century (300 miles!) in a single day. He also was one of the leaders in a fundraising project aiming to extend a local bike trail,” says Brecka beams. “It only seems fitting to start the event on the piece of the trail he helped to make possible. We're also encouraging out-of-towners to ride in their own cities; people who don't bike can get involved by walking or jogging!”
Shanna knows that planning is key to their event’s success. “We have been reaching out to everyone we know to join in the fight. We have gotten a lot of community and business support and hope to do other mini-fundraisers to help us reach our fundraising goal.
“The day-of is going to be EPIC. We are planning an hour for both kids and teens and businesses are taking an hour to honor and remember those impacted by Alzheimer’s. We also have a pretty fantastic after party planned. It will cap off 24 hours of kicking Alzheimer’s in the butt!”
Their longest days
Despite all of their excitement about the day itself, it has been a rough road for both sisters and their family. Brecka experienced her longest moments in the space between when she found out her dad had Alzheimer’s and in supporting him as he told her other sisters of his diagnosis. “Not being able to “fix it” was a terrible feeling,” she says.
For Shanna, there have been so many heart-wrenching moments. “The hardest part is seeing my dad decline, because he knows that he is declining. My little sister is still in high school and could lose Dad before she graduates – that is one of the worst parts. And finally, knowing that my kids, ages 3 yearsand 3months, have very limited time with their grandpa…it just breaks my heart.”
Both sisters agree – being able to take control of their activity and plans for The Longest Day is empowering and helps them feel like part of the fight to end Alzheimer’s. It is a way for them to leave their mark and honor their father and his legacy. “Finding a cure has to become everyone's business, or it's going to become everyone's big problem really soon,” says Brecka.
In it together The sisters aren’t slowing down, because they know that no one can fight this disease alone. “As the population ages, and advances in medicine help people live longer, a greater percentage of people will have Alzheimer's or other dementias. Our country doesn't have the infrastructure or resources to care for the number of people who will have dementia – but otherwise be reasonably healthy – in the years to come. We won't be able to cover the costs: physically, financially or emotionally. We have to find a cure,” says Brecka.
Shanna admits that she learned about Alzheimer’s the hard way: by seeing her dad’s fight. “I am embarrassed to admit I had a lot of misconceptions about Alzheimer’s before Dad was diagnosed. I didn’t realize how young it can hit, and how great of an impact it has on the person diagnosed, not to mention friends and family. It is a heartbreaking disease, and sadly it is one that will impact us all.”
Making sour moments sweeter
Shanna and Brecka’s team has raised $4,517 to date, but their goal is $24,000 – $1,000 for each hour in the day. “We started by creating a presence on social media and have been regularly sharing a lot of video content,” says Brecka.
“We're in the early phases of getting support from local businesses and schools and have several businesses lined up to hold their own fundraisers for the event. We're well on our way!” adds Shanna.
“There is a quote from one of my favorite television shows, “This is Us,” that has inspired me along our fundraising journey,” says Shanna. “A character said: ‘There's no lemon so sour that you can't make something resembling lemonade.’
“Our dad’s diagnosis was one of life’s most sour lemons. Finding a cure…now that’s our lemonade.”
About Shanna and Brecka: The sisters joined The Longest Day as team Trails for Dale to celebrate and honor their dad, Dale Putnam, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Although there is no cure for him, or anyone fighting Alzheimer's today, he's an active participant in Alzheimer's clinical trials in hopes that one day there will be a cure for someone else. Shanna and Brecka want to help make his dream a reality.