ALZ Stars Athlete Returns to Chicago after 21 Years to Honor his Mother

“Well, I’m doing it again. I am running the Chicago Marathon,” shared ALZ Star athlete John Stalker Henderson, who goes by Stalker. He ran his first Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2000, with his wife and infant daughter—now a graduate of Northwestern University—waiting for him at the finish line. 

After two decades, Stalker registered for the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with team ALZ Stars. The 2020 race was cancelled due to COVID-19, but Stalker chose to run 26.2 miles in his home city of Denver, Colorado. (As he jokingly puts it, he got “first place in the Chicago Marathon: Denver Edition.”)

Finally, after 21 years and one postponement, Stalker returned to the Windy City to cross the finish line in Grant Park. 

Stalker was one of 150 ALZ Stars athletes in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 10. The team included runners from 33 states and 4 countries, covering a total of 5,004 miles on race day. 

“Alzheimer’s is not going away just because COVID-19 is with us,” he shared. “So that too had me wanting to continue to run.” 

He joined ALZ Stars in honor of his mother, who he lost to Alzheimer’s disease. “My mother was diagnosed with what were clear issues of dementia, something that was very close to me given work that I do with folks who are older and sometimes suffer with dementia.” 

“When I did run when she was around she found it to be kind of absurd,” Stalker recounts with a chuckle. “Even while she was battling dementia [she] was very full of good humor and funny.” Years ago, Stalker ran a race and came in second place behind a high school student. “I got a little second prize…and she looked at me and said, ‘Well, why didn’t you win?’” laughs Stalker. 

“Last year, I was genuinely buoyed by the financial and emotional support I received from so many people across all parts of my life,” shared Stalker. Many of his donors knew his mother personally, or supported his fundraising because of their own personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease. 

“When my legs got heavy and the miles got a little longer, I reminded myself of [their] words of encouragement,” shared Stalker. “I happen to be a runner who doesn’t like to run with earbuds in, so when I’m out doing my training runs it’s just me and the sound of my breath and the thoughts in my head. And those thoughts are frequently ones that focus upon the people who have rallied to the cause and provided support to the Alzheimer’s Association and support for me to run the race.”

Stalker is the top fundraiser on the 2021 ALZ Stars team, raising $14,173 for the Alzheimer’s Association to enhance care, support programs and research to ultimately to find a cure.  

“I happen to have friends who are scientists who have benefited from the work that the Alzheimer’s Association has done in support of their scientific research,” Stalker shared. “The money is important…so I’ve done the math in my head and worked it out: how much every stride is. And that helps when the body starts breaking down a little bit for the longer runs.” 

Our ALZ Stars make a huge impact in the fight to end Alzheimer’s, and Stalker leads the pack with his fundraising. So while his mom couldn’t be there at the marathon finish line, we’re certain she would be proud of Stalker’s first place fundraiser status achieved in her honor.

Interested in running the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with team ALZ Stars? Register at

Why I Walk…Mary’s Story

Mary Fus is a fixture of the Chicago Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She is a repeat Elite Grand Champion—a distinction that comes with raising over $2,500 for Alzheimer’s care, support, and research—and Chair of the Mission Committee. She is the proud captain of team Pou-Pou. As of Thursday, October 14, the team has raised over $35,000 in 2021 alone. 

Mary and her mother.

“As a caregiver for my mother with Alzheimer’s disease, it takes more patience than you can imagine; but it is also an honor to give back to her and care for her when she needs it the most,” says Mary. Every dollar raised through Walk to End Alzheimer’s funds research and support services for families around Illinois. Mary’s family is one such recipient.

“This will be my 9th year walking in honor of my mom,” she says. “What drives me to continue on this journey is experiencing first-hand as a caregiver, how this disease continues to take away my mom, leaving a shell of who she once was. Our roles are reversed now, I take care of her like she took care of me as a child. I still hold on to those memories and was blessed to have a great role model in her.” 

Team Pou-Pou in 2013.

After years of witnessing her mother’s decline, Mary felt compelled to step up and do something to fight against the disease. 

“Nine years ago in 2013, I hastily formed my team and it’s called Pou-Pou and that’s in honor of my mother…known as Pou-Pou Yung to her grandkids and many others.”

Mary with her mother and sisters at the 2021 Walk.

“Our team consists of family and friends who walk not only for her but for the many other relatives and friends that are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as well as in memory of all of our loved ones that have already lost the fight to this thief of a disease.”

Mary and her family attended the in-person Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday, October 9 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. For Mary, participating is her “way of doing something to honor my mother…and to help put an end to this progressive disease, so that others don’t have to experience the loss of a loved one while they are still living.”

Mary and her mother.

The Alzheimer’s Association is incredibly lucky to have a champion like Mary in our midst, and all the other supporters who strengthen the fight to end Alzheimer’s. Beyond chairing the Mission Committee and being one of our top fundraisers, Mary has volunteered in the Alzheimer’s Association office, advocated policy makers in Springfield, been featured in the Reason to Hope program video and launched the “Light the City Purple” initiative, getting major downtown buildings to light up purple to #ENDALZ. Mary was also instrumental in bringing together a partnership between the Alzheimer’s Association and the Chinese American Service League.

A selection of Champions Club incentives.

Mary recently joined us on Facebook Live to share a few easy ways to reach the Champion Club. She continues to motivate her team Pou-Pou to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. All Illinois Walk to End Alzheimer’s participants will be eligible for incentives for all donations raised through Wednesday, December 1. Find the full list of incredible incentives here

Team Pou-Pou at Soldier Field in 2019 (13 Champions shown here!)

Learn more about Mary’s team here, and check your fundraising status at

Learning Vulnerability for the Sake of Your Loved One Living with Alzheimer’s

There are good days and bad days for Danielle Spaar. She is a caregiver to her parents, including her father who is living with Alzheimer’s disease. A former Marine, her father “was the one everyone could depend on,” said Danielle. “He was the calm parent to talk to about your problems.” 

Danielle and her father had a difficult day recently when they returned home from a family vacation. Their routine was out of sorts, and emotions were high on both sides. However, the challenging day grew into a useful exercise in vulnerability for Danielle. 

“As a very independent person myself, I can’t imagine how he is feeling.  Being so out of control of the things happening to him…I’m still glad I let him see ‘behind the curtain of strength,’  just for a moment,” shared Danielle.

Danielle grapples with being open about her struggles as a sandwich caregiver—caring for a parent and child at the same time—and describes how vulnerable she feels as both a mother and a daughter. Danielle describes the first time that her daughter saw her cry, and how this experience caused her to reflect on what it means to be a parent and to show your emotions.

Danielle reflects on the man her father was before his illness—a “ripped” young man who enjoyed exercise and entered the Marines in the middle of culinary school. Now, she notes that her father finds comfort in the simple things. He enjoys listening to music from the 60s and watching old movies with his family. Danielle and her father enjoy a routine of morning walks with Danielle’s labradoodle, Tony, as they engage in “familiar” conversations. 

Danielle recalls times when her emotions got the best of her and she lashed out towards her father in frustration. She has an important reminder for other caregivers: “Don’t bottle all [of] that hurt inside.” 

Through the Alzheimer’s Association, Danielle benefited from the Care Consultation program and Early Stage Support Group. She sees parallels between the struggles that she experiences as a caregiver for her father and managing the behaviors of her teenage children. 

For now, Danielle plans to continue making memories with her father—“ones he will not remember, but I will,” said Danielle. Her story highlights the complexity of staying compassionate with a loved one living with dementia, and the fatigue that can accompany being a caregiver. Feelings of uncertainty, frustration, and sadness are common, and it is important to seek emotional support as needed. 

The balance of caregiving for a parent while parenting children is complex. Resources and support are available. Find a support group to connect with individuals who know what you’re going through here. Other resources are available at

Contributor: Amanda Wisinger, Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer