Ride For Life, A Tradition in Sayville

  • Ride For Life,

    a Tradition of Awareness in Sayville

    Since the first Ride For Life was launched in 1998 by Chris Pendergast, every year in May, during ALS Awareness Month, ALS patients, their caregivers, and some of their greatest supporters continue the tradition to make a special trek on foot and in wheelchairs through towns, villages, and school districts, bringing awareness and raising funds for a cure.


    For many years, Sayville schools have been part of this journey to help loved ones battling the disease of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Although each building has brought awareness in different ways, the goal has always been united—to support the research to find a cure!


    This year, the Ride through Sayville Schools began at Cherry Avenue. Prior to the day of the Ride, Cherry Avenue Social Worker Noemi Barzcak offered “push in” visits to the Fourth and Fifth-grade classrooms to help students understand ALS and how their participation in the Ride For Life would be so important in bringing about ALS awareness.  “Cherry has been a long-time supporter of Ride For Life,” both Principal Lisa Ihne and Ms. Barzcak explained. “Each year our students are able to see the real-life examples of strength and determination by those who fight and are driven to find a cure for ALS.  This year over seventy Fourth- and Fifth-grade Student Council members walked with Mr. Pendergast and the Ride. As a building, we were able to collect close to $250.”


    The next stop was at Sayville High School, where the Ride was hosted by the Junior Class (with class advisors Kathy VanDorn and Lynn Perlin) and the High School Key Club (with advisors Doug Shaw and Jenn Wittman-Cahill). In memory of Dawn Kelley, Dennis Craine, and Tom Coleman, the High School Community collected over $1,700 for ALS Research and patient services.


     “The Riders, along with the Cherry Avenue supporters, arrived and were welcomed by the school band.” Mr. Shaw explained.  “Over 1,000 people lined the school driveway and gave them a thunderous welcome.” After two Sayville students, Junior Sean Kelley and Senior Cella Craine, both of whom had lost a parent to ALS, addressed the outdoor assembly, Christine Pendergast spoke on behalf of her husband to remind the High School students about ALS and the significance of making the Ride For Life to bring awareness. “The crowd was silent as Chris Pendergast, himself, addressed them,” Mr. Shaw added, “reciting his favorite Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, and leaving the school with the message , ‘never, never give up.’”


    Sayville High School’s fundraising activities for ALS included a car wash that collected over $800 and a paper chain, each link inscribed with a message of support, representing donations from the High School community. This 200 foot- long paper chain was displayed along the fence for the Riders to see on their approach.


    After Sayville Middle School Student Assistance Counselor Paul Simonsen greeted the Riders and the Cherry Avenue students, he asked for a moment of silence to honor those Sayville residents who participated in last year's ride, but who have since passed away. This was followed by an exciting rally for support led by the Middle School cheerleaders and assisted by the chorus students who provided uplifting song. In the Commons Area, two tiers of students (those on the upper level and those seated  on the floor) were given American flags to hold and #4 signs, commemorating Lou Gehrig's famous #4, to wave.”


    “About $2,000 in donations were collected altogether.” Sayville Middle School Science Teacher Cathy Thorvaldsen remarked. “These monies came from  two districtwide “Jeans-day” donations, where even though it was suggested to donate $10, many people sent checks for much more than that, selling paper ‘baseballs’ to display at the MS, an STA donation, and a Student Council donation from the Middle School.”


    Last stop was Sunrise Drive. This year’s ALS Ride For Life made a special effort to honor Tom Coleman, who rode his wheelchair for the cause last year, but who passed away since then. He was the uncle of Beatrice, a kindergarten student at Sunrise Drive in Donna Morisie’s class. “Her uncle had attended Sunrise Drive and was a Sayville resident.” Ms. Morisie had explained in a memo to enlist the assistance of the Sunrise Drive community in preparation for the scheduled visit. “This means a lot to her family to have the Ride For Life stop at our school…My kids will be making posters and hats to show our support.” Responding with great enthusiasm and banners of their own, the Sunrise Drive community showed tremendous support with deafening cheers as the Rider appeared on Loop Drive. When Chris Pendergast rolled up to meet little Beatrice and her family, she handed him the school donations. In thanks, Chris offered her a ride on his wheelchair. Standing on the footrest of the powered chair, Beatrice and Chris rolled up and down the line of the Sunrise Drive students who chanted “Ride For Life” at the top of their lungs.


    Despite the clamor and excitement of the Sunrise Drive students, when Chris Pendergast requested to speak, silence fell and all waited. “Chris’s voice is very low,” a young woman spoke on his behalf. “He just wanted to say he had an awesome day on the Ride. It couldn’t have been better than ending it here at Sunrise Drive elementary. You guys did a great job. We heard you from down the street as we walked in, so thank you very much.” After listening to Chris for more comments, the young lady continued, “and the girl, Beatrice, who rode on the wheelchair with Chris, up and down, her uncle had ALS. And he was on the ride last year, so we are honoring him today as well. [Chris] is very happy and very thankful for all your support, all your decorations, the pinwheels, posters. And Frank and Paul also, who have ALS, they thank you so much for today.”  Through the powerful voice of his spokeswoman, Chris wanted the children to know his concluding words which he whispered as a last message. “It’s like the children’s book, The Little Engine That Could: ‘He thinks he can, he thinks he can.’” Over the applause, the final words rang out; “With your help, we will be able to! Thank you!”