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Stroll, Roll 'n' Run event raises more than $40,000 for ALS research

March 10, 2013 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 10, 2013 at 10:11 p.m.

Keith Onken, 45, front, participates in the wheelchair race during the Stroll, Roll ’n’ Run at Riverside Park in Victoria. Onken, 45, who lives with spina bifida, has participated in the race for the last four years in support for the event.

When the Rev. Bill Hassel drove his wheelchair to the Stroll, Roll 'n' Run start line Sunday morning, he was determined to win the race.

With a bullhorn in hand, he moved his wheelchair joystick forward and playfully honked a loud siren at his fellow race participants.

"When I honk, you pull over. That's the law," Hassel jested.

Hassel is one of the organizers of the fourth annual 5-kilometer race in Riverside Park, which raises money for people like him who have been diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Though determined to win the wheelchair portion of the race, he was more excited to help raise money and awareness for a disease that has ravaged his body for the past five years.

ALS slowly robs people of their ability to use their muscles, eventually forcing them to a wheelchair when they're no longer able to use their arms and legs. Speech and swallowing, too, are often inhibited, and many patients eventually transition to a feeding tube. The disease, which has no cure, is fatal.

Hassel is determined to not let the illness beat him.

"I think he's more active now than he was before he diagnosed," said Hassel's friend and race organizer Dr. Aaron Muegge. "I knew him before he was diagnosed. And it's amazing the stuff that he still accomplishes, the drive he still has. That's what inspires us to do the work and come out here every year."

More than 250 people attended Sunday's race, which included a silent auction, pre-race devotional and four men's attempt to break a domino-playing world record for longest game.

"It was a lot harder than we thought it would be. By the end, we were struggling to stay awake," said domino player Jeff Svetlik, 36, of Victoria. "But we accomplished what we set out to do. We used our talents to do something for ALS - to get the word out there to other people."

Beginning the game at 9 a.m. Saturday, the men set a new world record for dominoes, finishing at 24 hours and 27 minutes.

Svetlik said for the record to be officially documented, he needs to fill out a lengthy report and submit to the Guinness World Records for its stamp of approval.

Sunday's ALS fundraiser raised more than $40,000, which will be donated to ALS Therapy Development Institute for medical research.

Event volunteer Nicole Wallace, whose mother Judith Birt died of ALS 10 years ago, said she agreed to help Hassel organize Stroll, Roll 'n' Run because she knows how desperately this disease needs cheerleaders.

"A lot of diseases out there have their celebrities. ALS doesn't. The general public doesn't realize it kills you. It traps you in your own body, and your mind is still there," Wallace said. "I saw what my mom went through, and I want to do anything I can to make these families as comfortable as possible."

Following the race - which Hassel admitted he did not win despite all his efforts to blast the competition to the side of the race - he gathered with some of the event's key organizers to reflect on the need for events like Stroll, Roll 'n' Run in the community.

"An event like this can really boost the morale for families with ALS because a lot of times they feel like they're going through it by themselves," said Sandra Post, a retired registered nurse and volunteer ALS support group counselor. "I feel like there's a lot of love in the community, especially when a lot of people who showed up today didn't have anyone in their family touched by ALS. They're just here to support us."

Hassel said he was overwhelmed with Sunday's turnout.

"Oh man, I don't deserve a damn thing, and they're all here supporting us every year, four years in a row - unbelievable," he said.

Read about last year's event

Read a Revelations column on the Rev. Bill Hassel



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