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On the Trail for a Cure: A 150-Mile Journey by Wheelchair

By Mark Cheater

On July 20, Robin Mower will set out from her home in Toledo, Ohio, on a charity ride to the state capital in Columbus, using rail-trails for parts of her trip. The 150-mile journey would be challenging for even a fit person on a bicycle. For someone afflicted with a debilitating disease and confined to a wheelchair, however, it's nothing short of extraordinary.

Mower, 47, suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Commonly known as 'Lou Gehrig's disease' after the New York Yankees' baseball star who died from it, ALS attacks the nervous system. Despite decades of study, scientists still do not know what causes it or how to treat it. Mower wants to see that change-and hopes her trip helps generate both publicity and donations for ALS programs and research. "It's going to be an extreme adventure, but I feel like I have to take this journey," she says.

"A lot of people don't know what ALS is, and that there's no treatment or cure," she adds. "This disease can affect anyone at any age-it doesn't discriminate."

Mower, a former Special Olympics coach, weight lifter and mother of four, was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. She has lost much of the control over her limbs, but she hasn't let the disease dim her competitive spirit. "I want to focus on things I can do, not on what I can't," she says. "This is a great way to get the word out about ALS."

When she came up with the idea for the motorized wheelchair trip this spring, Mower asked officials at the northern Ohio chapter of the ALS Association to help make it happen. Mary Wilson Wheelock, the chapter's executive director, started searching the Internet for information on paths in northern Ohio and came across TrailLink.com, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) free trail-finder website.

"I stumbled upon RTC when I was looking for assistance to find Robin a safe path," says Wheelock. "There are a lot of websites out there and a lot of organizations, but RTC was attractive to me because it has an office in Columbus and it is another nonprofit group that we could help raise awareness of." 

She got in touch with Eric Oberg, manager of trail development in RTC's Midwest Regional Office, who helped Mower's team plot a route along several Ohio rail-trails, including the International Park Rotary TrailNorth Coast Inland Trail and the Olentangy Greenway Trail. He's also worked with partner groups to find suitable roads that connect these trail segments.

"When you get a chance to help someone like Robin do something like this....it sure makes those tedious days at work a whole lot easier to deal with," says Oberg.

Mower will be accompanied on her planned six-day journey by her husband, a cousin and a sister. She'll also be receiving mechanical support from Permobil, the company that makes her wheelchair. This will be her first rail-trail experience, and she's excited about it. "It's going to be safer for me-I won't have to brave the traffic and worry about being hit by a car or other vehicle, or slowing them down," she says. "I'll also have a chance to show people the beauty of Ohio."

Oberg says it's been inspirational to work with Mower and her team on this important project. "For someone like this, fighting a battle like she's fighting and willing to do what she's doing, it brings home the importance of the work we've done," he says. "The only unfortunate thing is that she can't be on a trail all the way to where she wants to go-so it also highlights how much work we need to do."

You can follow Mower's progress on her blog and sign on to support her effort on the ALS Association's northern Ohio chapter website at http://web.alsa.org/goto/RobinsJourney

Photos courtesy of Robin Mower. 


Posted Thu, Jun 23 2011 10:24 AM by Karl Wirsing (RTC)


laura nickens wrote re: On the Trail for a Cure: A 150-Mile Journey by Wheelchair
on Thu, Jun 23 2011 8:11 PM

robin you are truly and inspiration! Love you and you have all of our love and support!!  Go Robin Go!!

susan Behm wrote re: On the Trail for a Cure: A 150-Mile Journey by Wheelchair
on Thu, Jul 7 2011 6:38 PM

can you tell me which railtrails and time and date you will be on them, in Ohio?  psbehm@frontier.com

cheryl boggs wrote re: On the Trail for a Cure: A 150-Mile Journey by Wheelchair
on Fri, Jul 8 2011 9:20 PM

Robin,  You will be the inspiration for so many people.  I have and still support ALS foundation. thanks for showing the people what can and will be done.


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