Rounding the corner, out of the parking lot, the group headed down the hill by the Community Centre in Smith’s Harbour, as the sun emptied from the sky after days of rain and dreary weather. The warmer temperatures arrived just in time, as with one foot before the other, each participant made a little more progress.
Just as the large sea of purple came closer, waving a white banner and sticking close together, almost to create an impenetrable wall, a cry was heard from the back of the group.
“Hey guys – let Roy through, so he can get out in front.”
Emerging from the crowd came a young man, pushing a wheelchair, in which sat Roy Penney – all smiles, and beaming with pride.
He moved to the front of the pack, and began to lead the charge, going side by side with the large white banner with giant purple letters that described why all of these people were here, and why Roy was taking part sitting down.
Walk for ALS
Jennifer Whelan, organizer of Smith’s Harbour first ever Walk for ALS, which happened this past Sunday, says the fact that Roy Penney and his family could join them in the efforts made the initiative even more special.
Penney, a native of Smith’s Harbour, is the key inspiration for Whelan and the community trying to organize the event, she said, after he was diagnosed with ALS a number of months ago.
“After hearing about Roy’s diagnoses, and then others who have also been facing this disease in our area, we had to do something,” she said.
The small town of Smith’s Harbour has been especially touched by the disease, which is medically called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Whelan says along with Penney, another resident has also been given the prognosis of ALS as a possible explanation to his symptoms, but is currently waiting for a second opinion.
“For such a small town to have two possible cases of this disease is extremely rare,” explained Whelan. “It’s obvious that we had to do something as a community.”
Whelan said she started researching and decided if nothing else, she would walk for ALS on her own. The closest event was in Corner Brook, a fair drive for anyone wanting to help – which sparked an idea.
“I contacted the organizers in Corner Brook and asked if they were OK with us organizing one here,” she said. They were supportive of the idea, and encouraged Whelan to move forward with the vision. “They told me to go for it,” she said, “the next day a box showed up with t-shirts, balloons, stickers, tattoos – everything we needed.”
From there word started getting around about the event through social media and word of mouth. Volunteers set out getting pledges and donations from family and friends, and all money was collected just before the walk commenced.
In total, there were 36 participants who combined to raise over $2500.00 dollars. Whelan said the show of support for the first effort was tremendous, with one participant, nine-year-old Jenna Mitchell, raising nearly $500.00 dollars herself, with the help of family and friends.
But the highlight for many involved was the participation of Roy Penney – who brought a face to the cause, and allowed everyone to rally around with support.
“We definitely want to make this an annual event,” concluded Whelan, thanking everyone who helped, but added one key fact as well. “And we hope Roy will get out to join us at the next event as well.”