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Aiming at Ames to Strike Out ALS

As hundreds of ninth graders began lining the sidewalk in front of Massapequa High School’s Ames Campus on May 14, they had no idea of the impact they were about to make. Within a few minutes, a police escort led participants in the ALS Ride For Life into the circular driveway, and students enthusiastically cheered.

Ride For Life has visited Ames for more than a decade to raise awareness about the progressive neurological condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Two ALS warriors were part of this year’s group, and told students how much their support means.

“You guys are the hope that we need in this world,” said Paul, a Bohemia resident who has lived with the disease for more than 10 years. “You’re making a big difference.”

Paul has visited the school during previous Ride For Life events and is extremely grateful for the continued support. Joining him was Jordan, of Islandia, who came to Ames for the first time. Jordan said that ALS is not a common ailment and Massapequa’s ninth graders can now serve as ambassadors to raise awareness.

Students lining the front of the school held signs with messages like “Never give up,” “Stay strong” and “Ames is fighting for you.” Members of the student council carried banners with the pictures and names of people who have lost their battle with ALS.

Ride For Life was founded in 1997 by Christopher Pendergast, who was diagnosed with ALS while a teacher in East Northport, and lived for 28 years with the disease. He made his first ride in 1998 in a wheelchair from Yankee Stadium to Washington, D.C. His wife, Christine, was among the participants who came to Ames this year.

Since Ride For Life was founded, it has raised more than $10 million, largely with the help of students across the country. Through afterschool bake sales, the Ames student council raised $200 this year for the nonprofit organization.

Principal Tania Willman told students to remember the message of Ride For Life – never give up, always have hope and strive to overcome obstacles. She added that it is the collective strength of a community that can turn the impossible into the possible. While there is no known cure for ALS, it is events like Ride For Life and the enthusiastic support from students that creates hope that someday there will be.

Barbara Brown, the Ride For Life school outreach coordinator, added that Christopher Pendergast’s dream of finding a cure lives on through the support they get from students and staff in communities like Massapequa. She closed out the event by leading students in a chant of “strike out ALS.”