I learned about the concept of teamwork from my grandfather when I started playing youth football in 1992. That year our team was awful, both on the offensive and defensive lines; we went winless the entire season. This made me miserable. I was the biggest and fastest kid on the team but wasn’t even playing in a featured position.
My granddad went to every single one of my games, as he lived just five minutes from where we played. One day he gave me life-changing advice: the oldest and wisest. “You guys need to start working as a team. If the opposing team has the ball, swarm the carrier as one unit!” He saw what needed to be done, and that advice changed the course of my life.
Granddad passed away of complications from Alzheimer’s last year, on my 32nd birthday. On September 24, I am walking in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Chicago in honor of him and everything he taught me.
I’m excited about getting involved with the Alzheimer’s community face to face, and connecting through this shared experience. It’s not a situation any of us chose, but it’s very powerful to share Walk to End Alzheimer’s with so many people from different walks of life and know that we will all walk with the same common footing. My own team will be with me – my children and my wife. I expect the day to be humbling and very poignant.
My granddad’s sense of hard work stemmed from his professional career as a homicide detective in Pittsburgh. When he retired, everything slowed down for him.
He was used to working in a very disciplined manner, focusing on process and getting results. Naturally he tried to instill those concepts and life lessons in me as well. He was constantly using his brain when he was part of law enforcement, but as a retiree, he wasn’t as active. In 2012, the first domino fell. I would hear him repeating questions and comments, but I didn’t know what that meant – I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s disease.
Things took a turn for the worst in a four-month span of time. His household was a far cry from what I knew growing up, where I spent every day of my childhood. The man who was once so active, proud and strong was now living in a completely different state of health. Once he went to doctor and the diagnosis came, I put it all together. In a way, it was a relief to make some sense of his words and his actions, since I didn’t know the warning signs. Since that time, I’ve been learning more about the Alzheimer’s Association and all of its resources for families and people living with the disease.
When you love a person who has Alzheimer’s, it can be frustrating.
One thing I’ve learned through personal experience is that caregivers are a critical component of this disease. Like all caregivers, my grandmother had an astounding amount of commitment, empathy and patience. She and my granddad came from a different generation, and not everyone knows how to plan for this disease. She lived with a man for 50+ years, and she knew him to be one thing: her partner, someone to lean on. What must it have been like when he was a shadow of his former self? That’s particularly difficult to grapple with when you are the same age as the other person. Human nature must have taken over. She must have looked at him and thought “Can this happen to me?”
I have two young daughters, and in their lifetime, I want to see more awareness – and empathy for the elderly and all those living with the disease.
I am so glad that my family will be with me on Walk day joining in the experience. To others, I implore you: Be inquisitive. Be proactive. Be vigilant. Living in the information age we live in, the resources you are seeking are readily available at your fingertips.
Most of all, don’t dismiss signs of Alzheimer’s simply as “old age.” I’ve seen the elderly population being cast off or written off; there isn’t as large a focus on their health or their wellness. Although I am not part of that population, they are very important to me, and should be to all of us. I’m interested and fully invested in finding a cure for this disease.
So let’s start now. It’s time to get the ball rolling.
You can help change the face of this disease – and ultimately help end it. I played in the NFL for eight years, and that time flew by. Losing my granddad to Alzheimer’s on my 32nd birthday made me realize that in eight years from now, I'll be 40. God willing, I will live to be 80. And I've never been more motivated and excited to seize every day.
About the Author: Ryan Mundy, a native of Pittsburgh, is an eight-year veteran of the NFL. He attended college at the University of Michigan and West Virginia University and recently finished his MBA studies at The University of Miami (FL). Drafted in 2008, Ryan spent five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XL Champion), one season with the New York Giants and two seasons with the Chicago Bears. Ryan is now Chief Strategist at Techlete Ventures and CEO of 12AM Holdings Co.