MURRAY — In discussing Saturday’s annual Walk to Defeat ALS in Murray, co-chairman Tim Stark made an observation that he said should reveal a lot about the affect Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis has on the region.
“It used to be the ‘Murray Walk to Defeat ALS.’ It was only about Murray. Now it’s the ‘West KY Walk,’” said Stark, who is in his third year as co-chairman and fifth overall as a committee member. “One thing about it with me is that I have seen (ALS) affect so many people. I think, in west Kentucky, there are 20 patients now and I’ve gotten to meet some of those nice folks. In fact, I’ve been able to have some very close relationships with two people from Murray who had it and it’s just had a major impact on my life.”
The two Murray patients to whom Stark is referring were one of his closest friends, Todd Walker, and Brad Barnett, who along with his wife, DeAnn, came to form a tight bond.
Walker, who was a minister and song leader at Glendale Road Church of Christ, died in 2015 after about a year of battling ALS. Barnett was able to live for several years after his diagnoses before succumbing to the disease in 2016. Barnett was a standout for the 1974 Murray High football team that won a state title, having caught a touchdown pass in the championship win against Beechwood.
Throughout the years, T-shirts emblazoned with “TW” and “Team Brad” have represented the two largest teams at the walk.
“Team Brad and Team TW will both be well represented this year too,” Stark said. I think we’re going to have a good number of people out here again. At the last count, we had 10 or 12 teams registered and we’ll have a lot of community members that will be there as well.”
Stark said a major reason for his involvement in this event is that he has seen what ALS does to people from an up-close perspective.
“The worst part about it is it attacks everything but your brain. So you lose your ability to use your hands, your arms, your feet, your body. You slowly lose your ability to talk, yet your brain still functions at a high level,” he said. “You can still understand everything. You can still see everything. You can still want to do everything. It’s just that your body can’t compute what your brain is telling you to do anymore.
“It was both a blessing and a curse that Todd didn’t have to deal with the disease very long. He got diagnosed, then, a little over a year later, he died. Now, I didn’t have to go through it every day, I’m not family, so I didn’t see everything, like when he lost his ability to walk or lost his ability to use the rest of his body. Thankfully, Todd could still talk right up to the time he died. Some people lose the ability to speak, but we were still able to talk and carry on a conversation.”
“But that’s the thing about ALS; it attacks patients differently. Brad lived with it for years. (Harold) Williams (of Murray) is continuing to live with it (15 years after his diagnosis).”
Stark said that in getting to know the Barnetts, he saw up close something that gives him comfort.
“I got to see him live out the rest of his life the way he wanted. ALS affected him in a lot of different ways, but ALS never, ever, ever got the best of him. ALS did not defeat him,” he said.
Stark said the event is well on its way to achieving its monetary goal of raising between $40,000 and $50,000 this year. An event that helped boost that total was the Tap Out ALS event at Murray’s Tap 216 grill and bar a few weeks ago that included a silent auction that raised $6,000. Many of the items came from the relationships former Murray State baseball standout Mark Riggins formed during a 35-plus-year career in the Major Leagues.
His wife, Tammie, was diagnosed with ALS more than a year ago.
“It is really an awful disease,” Riggins said of ALS, which also has come to be known by another name, Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was ALS that ended, first, the career of one of the New York Yankees’ greatest players in 1939, then his life about three years later.
“We’re hoping that they can find that cure, and I think they’re getting close. They just haven’t been able to nail it down yet, so that’s why we’re doing this.”
The West KY Walk to Defeat ALS is utilized to heighten awareness of the disease in the Western Kentucky area. This is the only walk in Kentucky that takes place west of Louisville, with the majority of the funds raised devoted to patient care services within the state of Kentucky. The rest is devoted to researching a cure for this disease. Any funds donated can be specifically designated to either area by the donor.
Registration is still open online (web.alsa.org/Murray) for either a 5K run or the 1-mile walk that will start Saturday from the CFSB Center on the Murray State campus. On-site registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with the 5K set for 10:15 and the walk set to start at 10:30. There will also be a silent auction with over 100 items. For more information about the walk, visit web.alsa.org/Murray or contact Stark at 270-767-3340 or email tstark@TheMurrayBank.com.