Running with Alzheimer’s: Teammates, road races provide purpose for lifelong runner (VIDEO)
Special to The Union
Geno Meyers has jogged around his Chicago Park home for more than 30 years.
Yet in the last few years, this familiar activity has become more challenging, as Meyers has actually lost his way on a run in the same neighborhood on seven separate occasions. Four years ago, Meyers was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
But, at age 66, he still continues to run, with a little help from his friends.
Meyers was a decorated long-distance runner at Chico State University from 1968 to 1972. He once ran a 4-minute, 6-second mile and held the 800-meter run record for 16 years, but his competitive running didn’t stop there.
Since May 2014, Meyers has been a part of the Trkac Racing Team in Grass Valley. Their team motto is “Running Stronger Together,” and everyone is welcome to join. Meyers works out with the team every week and has participated in eight races in recent years.
“This team has enveloped him,” said Meyers’ wife, Cathy Anderson-Meyers. “When he shows up they just sort of suck him in, and ‘Who’s going to run with Geno today?’”
Without a running partner, Meyers can get lost and often isn’t able to run as he would like.
“The team has really embraced him,” says Meyers’ coach, Clyde Lehman. “If I forget, they make sure someone is always with him when he runs.”
In the 2014 Bear River Fundraiser 5K, Meyers was accompanied by his teammate, Angela Heung. Lehman told Heung to grab Meyers’ hand if he got confused. Lehman says she did that, and he didn’t let go of her hand for the rest of the race.
Their coach says as they were approaching the finish line, the two of them came up to pass another runner, and Meyers grabbed his hand as well.
“At first, the guy was a little confused because this doesn’t happen at a race,” says Lehman. “The three of them ran hand in hand across the finish line.”
Lehman says he has no shortage of volunteers to run with Meyers, who ran most recently at Sunday’s Daffodil Run in Penn Valley.
“He’s so important to us,” he says. “A lot of times, people who are even faster will give up that race or performance just to run with him.”
In the 2014 Batwa Challenge, Meyers’ running partner was 15-year-old Calen Warner. That day, Meyers won the 5K in his age group. And with his finishing time of 25:41, he qualified to become a United States All-American Runner.
“He is still a fabulous runner,” said Lehman. “To become an All-American with that disease is phenomenal.”
Anderson-Meyers said she started to notice signs of memory loss in her husband when he hit his late 50s. She said he was coaching track at Nevada Union High School and it seemed he was forgetting the names of kids and their times.
He also was having difficulty counting cribbage, playing poker, and doing their taxes.
“He was a math major, but couldn’t multiply or divide,” she said.
After a lumbar puncture, Myers was diagnosed with young onset, early stage Alzheimer’s disease. His wife says the most important thing to do is to get a diagnosis.
“Don’t think, ‘Oh, it’s senioritis,’” she says. “Get a diagnosis if real things are starting to happen.”
Anderson-Meyers says the second most important thing is for the caretaker to take care of themselves. She says a high percentage of caregivers die before the person they’re caring for.
“It’s crucial to join a support group,” she says. “The hardest thing for any caregiver is the fact that this person looks like your partner of the last 34 years, but mentally they’re not and they don’t recognize that they’re changing.”
One of Anderson-Myers’ support groups is the Trkac Racing Team.
“I can’t say how much the team has relieved me,” she said, noting that her husband’s workouts with the team have allowed her to have some time for herself and go for a walk or bike ride. She says the team is like family now.
“They hug me and they love me, just like they do him,” she said. “I am so grateful for everything they’ve done for both of us.”
The Trkac Racing Team is hosting its Trkac Distance Festival on June 7 at Penn Valley’s Western Gateway Park. All ages are welcome to participate in the 5K, 10K, or half marathon.
For more information, visit the Trkac Racing Team’s website, trkacracingteam.org.
See this story at TheUnion.com for a video and more information on Geno Meyers and his Trkac teammates.
Laura Mahaffy is a freelance journalist who lives in Grass Valley.
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