Families who have lost loved ones to ALS release doves Saturday at Stony Brook University. Photo by Monica Gleberman
June 05, 2012 | 09:12 AMAn ALS patient, advocate and founder of Ride for Life, Christopher Pendergast, along with friends and family, paid Stony Brook University a visit on Saturday and brought along quite a sizeable gift.
The event at SBU is a cornerstone of the annual Ride for Life, a 12-day power wheelchair trek by ALS patients across Long Island from May 29 to June 9. Pendergast's wife Christine said the organization plans on finishing next Saturday by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Pendergast, who has been battling ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — for almost 20 years, stopped by Stony Brook University and presented a $1 million check to SBU President Dr. Sam Stanley to help support the development of SBU's ALS clinical trials program at the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. The Simons Challenge Grant — given by Jim and Marilyn Simons — matched the $500,000 donation from Ride for Life, making the total donation $1 million.
University president Dr. Sam Stanley presents 19-year ALS patient Chris Pendergast with a Stony Brook baseball jersey. Photo by Monica Gleberman
ALS is a neurological disorder characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain.
As part of the ride, organizers created a grid with 6,000 pinwheels that symbolize the lives lost annually to ALS and were a powerful backdrop to the ceremony. The pinwheels sparkled as they spun in the wind as Dr. Stanley presented Pendergast with an official university baseball jersey.
"The jersey is really symbolic of Chris," Stanley said Saturday. "Chris is a champion for the fight against ALS, a champion for the fight for the ALS Center of Excellence at the university that bears his name and of course a champion at life."
Also in attendance were Dr. Nurcan Gursoy and Dr. Rahman Pourmand, co-directors of the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center for Excellence.
Dr. Sam Stanley greets Christine Pendergast, wife of ALS patient Chris Pendergast, as the Ride for Life group rides onto the Stony Brook University campus. Photo by Monica Gleberman
Gursoy and Pourmand both thanked Pendergast for all his hard work in not only bringing attention to ALS, but for all time he and his family have spent raising money for the clinical trials.
"I hope that one day we find the cause of this disease and hopefully one day we will have a treatment for this disease," Pourmand said.
Christine Pendergast said Ride for Life is committed to furthering the clinical trials of ALS.
"We are very happy to announce that there is a $1 million commitment made here to Stony Brook, to the ALS center here to begin clinical human trials so that we can ultimately find a cure for ALS. We are putting a lot of pressure on Stony Brook to make sure that they are the ones that find that missing piece and find the cure," she said.
At the ceremony, those who lost their lives to the disease were remembered, as their names were read aloud by family members. Six people who died in the last year were remembered when doves were released at the event.
Christine Pendergast in front of the pinwheel display. Photo by Monica Gleberman
Christine Pendergast said she wants to make sure people understand that this cause is much greater than her husband.
"I am trying to get the message out that Ride for Life is not about Chris Pendergast. It is about the ALS community at large … it is about the families who have lost loved ones to ALS and it is about the families that have yet to be diagnosed with ALS."