by TaLeiza Calloway
Glenn Hommerding knows the roar of a Harley Davidson from a mile away.
If you’re trying to talk to him as it passes, you can forget it. The conversation simply has to wait.
The St. Joseph resident wanted his own bike. So he bought one last year.
This year, the 47-year-old is limited in his cruising as his amotrophic lateral sclerosis continues to progress. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the great baseball player who died of it.
“It’s hard to believe I was riding a motorcycle last year,” Hommerding said.
Last spring he logged 8,500 miles, traveling throughout Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin.
His approach to the disease is to not focus on what he can’t do anymore but on the present.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. While there is continuous research, a cure has not been discovered.
Hommerding was diagnosed with ALS in November 2010. The former truck driver and his wife, Brenda, have three sons – Matthew, 22; Jeremy, 20; and Tyler, 14. Their dogs – Dixie, Addie and Rusty – have been a source of comfort during the transition.
“The support has been amazing, overwhelming,” Brenda Hommerding said. “The ALS Association has made so many things possible . . . there really are no words.”
What they have learned since Glenn’s diagnosis is to take one day at a time and not worry about small things.
Brenda explained the organization provides volunteers to assist Glenn in the home while she’s working, a loan pool for equipment and support groups for families.
The Hommerdings will be among the hundreds participating in the 11th annual “St. Cloud Walk to Defeat ALS” tomorrow, Sept. 15. The walk, less than three miles, will take place at Eastman Park/Lake George in St. Cloud.
Glenn says the hardest part about the disease is accepting he can’t do anything for himself anymore.
“Over time you get more accustomed to this,” he said.
Brenda says it has been a gradual transition.
“We started out walking independently, went to a cane and then a walker, scooter and now a motorized wheelchair,” Brenda said. “You get used to something and then there’s the next thing.”
The Hommerdings know they are not the only family in St. Joseph affected by ALS, they said. But they agree more people should learn about it and tomorrow’s event provides a path to knowledge.
“It’s to increase their knowledge and awareness,” she said of the walk. “It’s a disease that will never affect many people unless you know somebody with it. That’s why it’s important to get the word out.”
Their team name is the “Harley Walkers.” There were about 80 members of the team last year comprised of family and friends. While they might not reach 80 members this year with conflicting activities happening this weekend, they are just grateful to those who support them.
Kristina Hedberg, special events coordinator for the Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota chapter of the ALS Association, said there were more than 700 walkers last year. Organizers hope to exceed that number this year.
Funds raised allow the chapter to provide programs and services at no charge. These programs include a durable medical-equipment loan pool, a communication-equipment loan for those who have lost the ability to speak; and a respite program, said Jennifer Myhre, a social worker for the ALS Association. The motorized chair Glenn uses came from the equipment-loan program.
Myhre said there are 400 people living with ALS at any given time in Minnesota. The local chapter reaches 45 people in North Dakota and 55 people in South Dakota, she said.
“We believe we’re reaching most of the people in Minnesota,” Myhre said. “The ALS Association’s focus is to help people live with the disease more easily.”
Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m., and the walk begins at 10 a.m. The event is completely donation-based. Walkers are encouraged to raise at least $25 each, Hedberg said.
For more information, visit www.alsmn.org.