Former Saints football player Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, will travel to Peru later this year and take along another person with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to see the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
“It will be extremely challenging for me as well as our guest, but awesome ain’t easy,” Gleason said recently in an email.
The Gleason Initative Foundation he founded provides “life adventures,” such as the trip to Peru, for people with ALS.
Before Peru, though, Gleason will be at the Rock ’n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon & 1/2 Marathon in New Orleans on Sunday, where members of Team Gleason will be raising funds to help individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injury obtain leading-edge technology, equipment and services.
“It looks like there’s a lot that technology can do to help people, until a cure is reached,” Gleason said.
Team Gleason is one of several nonprofit organizations taking the opportunity of the upcoming marathon to try to make life better for others.
For this, its fourth year in the Crescent City, more than $75,000 has been raised or pledged through the marathon, according to a news release from the Competitor Group company.
The San Diego-based company puts on Rock ’n’ Roll marathons in cities across the United States as well as in Canada and Europe.
“I’m working for everyday athletes, trying to help them to reach their personal goals,” said Malain McCormick, the event director for the New Orleans marathon.
Approximately 18,000 runners, from all 50 states and 23 countries, will be in New Orleans on Sunday for the marathon characterized by live bands at each mile and cheerleading squads along the way.
“It’s like a running parade,” McCormick said.
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, a member of Team Gleason, will perform the national anthem to kick off the marathon Sunday morning.
The race course begins on Poydras, runs along St. Charles Avenue, through the French Quarter, then on to Lakeshore Drive and finishes on Roosevelt Mall, behind the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Runners can choose between a full 26.2-mile marathon or a 13.1-mile half-marathon or they can share the distance in the two-person, half-marathon relay.
Following the marathon, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band will headline a free, post-race concert and “Finish Line Festival” in City Park, according to the Competitor Group.
Other marathon-related events will be held through the weekend, as well, leading up to race day.
A free Health and Fitness Expo will be at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center on Friday and Saturday.
Also on Saturday, there will be a “fun run” for kids in grades kindergarten through seventh in City Park.
Other charitable organizations represented in the marathon are the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Serious Fun Children’s Network; Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation for those with spinal injuries — wheelchair athletes from Arizona will be representing the latter organization .
Sometimes runners for good causes make up a party of one.
By the time he finishes the marathon in New Orleans this weekend, Michael Morris, of Galveston, Texas, will have run about 600 miles to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
He ran to New Orleans from Texas.
Morris is running in memory of a good friend who died of the disease at the age of 27, Morris said by phone on Valentine’s Day, shortly after arriving in Morgan City.
He started running from Rosenberg, Texas, north of Houston, on Jan. 23, with breaks to rest or participate in other races along the way.
His trek took him southward through Houston, on a ferry, through Beaumont, then Lafayette and Morgan City, before arriving in New Orleans this past Saturday.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Morris, who hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
If he qualifies, he’d be running in Boston in 2014, he said.
“I’ve met so many people along the way with cystic fibrosis” or who have a family member with it or have lost someone to the disease, Morris said.
It’s what kept him going, he said.
For another runner, Ryan Betz, who turns 17 on Friday, Louisiana will be No. 36 in the 50-state countdown he’s undertaken — Betz plans to run a marathon in every state to raise funds to send low-income students to the private high school where he’s a junior, Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, Ind.
At this point, he’s raised $40,000 toward his goal of $100,000 for an endowment that will pay the costs that the school’s financial aid package doesn’t cover.
Betz said he originally planned to do this for a local charter school where he lives, but the school’s charter was revoked, so he began to focus on helping students attend his school.
He tries to run in as many marathons as he can in the summer, he said.
“This will be my first time in Louisiana,” Betz said, who will be traveling here with his mother, Holly Betz. “I’m kind of excited to see New Orleans.”
Gleason, founder of Team Gleason, is actively trying to improve life for those with ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive, terminal neuro-muscular disease.
In January, it was announced that the JPMorgan Chase Foundation donated a $350,000 grant to the Team Gleason House of Innovative Living, a skilled care residence that will offer cutting-edge technology to the residents.
The residence is set to open this year in St. Margaret’s Skilled Nursing Residence in Mid-City.
“Many ALS patients end up fading away quietly and dying. For me this was not OK,” said Gleason, who retired from the NFL in 2008.
Aside from his many charitable efforts, which included “Backpacks for Hope” for school students after Katrina, Gleason is loved for a blocked punt, leading to a touchdown, on the night the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina.
“I did not want to fade away quietly. I’m surrounded by an enormous amount of support and use the best technology we can find to continue living a purposeful life to help others and to be a husband, father, son and brother,” he said.
“I have too much to live for and plan on doing just that for years to come ... until there is a cure,” he said.