SOLANA BEACH — The owner of a Solana Beach fitness studio recently took the ride of his life to symbolically experience the life-changing events of his father, who was diagnosed this past spring with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Dean Grafos rode a stationary bike from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 at his Sculpt Pilates studio to help increase awareness of the disease, for which there is no known treatment or cure.
The event also raised nearly $12,500, which Grafos donated to the San Diego Chapter of the ALS Association in honor of his father, Steve Grafos, a 79-year-old Army veteran.
“A couple of months ago I spent four hours with my dad, holding his hand and watching him fight just to breathe,” Dean Grafos said. “I wanted to do something to inspire people and match what he’s going through, at least symbolically.”
The fundraiser was organized in less than a month. “This is one of the most heartwarming stories of the year,” said Tom Courtney, executive director of the local ALS chapter, who rode alongside Grafos for more than three hours.
“I was just so moved,” he said. “People complemented the season of giving by being part of this.”
Participants could donate online and commit to either cycling for any length of time or taking a Pilates class.
The goal was to have the bikes and machines filled throughout the day. The event was a success, as more than 200 people took part in the fundraiser or just stopped by to donate or bid on items in a silent auction that was put together in less than a day.
“I’m doing great,” Grafos said halfway through his ride and not the least bit winded. “Everyone is pushing me hard with kind words and high-fives.”
Steve Grafos told his family about his diagnosis in April, but symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, a limp in one leg and a harshness in his voice were present before that, his daughter-in-law Lisa Grafos said.
ALS is a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease that attacks specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in a loss of ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Ultimately there is total paralysis.
Although the ability to move is progressively lost, there is little or no effect on the mind, leaving patients acutely aware of their continually decreasing abilities, the ALS website states.
According to a 2005 ALS Association report, military veterans are about 60 percent more likely to contract ALS than the rest of the population.
“Study after study continues to demonstrate this to be true: If you serve in the military, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of whether you served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, and regardless of whether you served during a time of peace or a time of war, you are at a greater risk of dying from ALS than if you had not served in the military,” the website states.
According to the ALS Association, Gulf War veterans are approximately twice as likely to develop ALS as those not deployed to the Gulf, and none of the studies analyzed can explain why those in military service are at such a great risk of developing ALS.
While cycling, Grafos Skyped with his parents, who live in Los Angeles, throughout the day.
“It was truly a heartwarming, beautiful experience,” said Jody Schneider, a Sculpt client who handles publicity for the center.