He Changed My Whole LifeSarah P. New York, New York
I was faced with ALS for the first time at the age of 7, when I found out that my beloved teacher, Mr. Pendergast, had been diagnosed with the horrible disease. We were too young to really understand what to make of his news, but I did know that ALS meant Mr. P was sick and probably wouldn't be able to teach anymore. I joined in on his efforts to raise money with the Ride for Life (where patients rode their motorized scooters from New York to DC to lobby for ALS), and when I moved schools, I always kept him in mind. In tenth grade, I was introduced to ALS once again, after I was assigned to write a school newspaper article about a Biology teacher who had been given the same devastating news Mr. P had faced eight years earlier. The first time I met Dave, I was nervous. It was my first big assignment, and I didn't know what to say to a teacher I hardly knew who had two young children and was facing what doctors said would be a two to five year prognosis. Dave made the interview easy, with his quick wit and optimism. From that day forward, I viewed the world a little differently. We were an unlikely pair, but Dave quickly became one of my closest friends. We kept in touch even after I went to college, came home, got a job and moved away again. Since the day he was diagnosed, myself, my peers and over 400 other Northport High School students & alumni have helped to raise over $3 million dollars for the fight against ALS through a gala event on Long Island. Understandably, there is something bittersweet about the events every year. In one regard, we celebrate the number of years the event is held, raising more money each time. On the other hand, each year is another year that ALS has gone uncured, that Dave and Mr. P were suffering from this terrible illness and that all ALS families cope with their losses. Dave passed away two weeks after our 8th gala event. One week, we felt remarkable success and the next, staggering defeat. I was lucky enough to get a chance to say goodbye. I can say nothing more than what I told him that day: he changed my whole life. Not only did he inspire me to pursue science and fundraising, he changed the way I view the world and every interaction I have. In his speech to the graduating class of Northport High School in 2005, Dave spoke about the lessons he learned from his father’s death. He said, “I learned that life can be short. I learned that in the end family and friends are all that matter. I learned that I should cherish every day as if it were my last. I learned that I should do the things that make me happy now. I learned that I should view the world and my life as a gift. I learned that I shouldn’t waste time being sad and grumpy.” I speak for everyone who has ever been touched by Dave when I say that we learned all that and so much more from him. His strength and grace in the face of adversity will remain unmatched. I am so proud to be continuing the fight at the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter for Dave, Mr. P and everyone who has ever been affected by this devastating disease. PS - This picture is from the first Walk to Defeat ALS I ever attended in 10th grade!