Athlete runs final marathon to honor his mother

Many people dream of running a marathon. Steve Barbus had loftier goals. He began long-distance running at age forty and has covered over a thousand miles between racing and training. Steve ran his 30th marathon in October 2021 with team ALZ Stars in honor of his mother, mother-in-law, and two aunts. He resolved to make every step count in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Steve discovered a love of running in high school. He ran his first marathon in Chicago in 1991. “The crowd carries you in Chicago,” says Steve. He recalls the excitement of that first race running along Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. Since that day, Steve has run a marathon almost every year. The Cadillac, Michigan resident returned to the Windy City thirty years later for one final race.

Steve at the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

“I promised myself—as decades went by—I’ll see if I can do them in my 60s, and then 70s,” Steve says of running marathons. He decided to “put some purpose” behind his passion, so he found the marathon’s Charity Program and supported the causes close to his heart. He first ran to raise money for leukemia research, from which his father passed away. Later, he joined the Alzheimer’s Association ALZ Stars. 

When his mother developed Alzheimer’s, it was challenging for Steve and his family to see her dementia symptoms. Steve would visit his mother on weekends and observe changes in her memory and behavior. “She was always such a reasonable person,” shares Steve. He was baffled by the confusion she started to show. Steve tried correcting her until one day his sister broke the news to him: “This is a different person now,” she told him. Their mother was no longer the steadfast figure they remembered growing up. That was the difficult moment Steve had to face the reality of his mother’s condition. 

Eventually, it was too dangerous for Steve’s mother to live on her own. The siblings called a “family sit-down” to discuss moving her somewhere she would be safer and more comfortable. Steve had watched other families struggle with caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s. He was thankful for how his own family unified and responded. They eventually moved their mother closer and into a care facility, where she passed away from complications due to the disease.

Steve joined the Alzheimer’s Association’s ALZ Stars to prevent other families from facing the same difficulties. Steve and hundreds of other athletes raised funds and awareness for dementia care, support and research. Advancing research is key for Steve and his family. His wife, Sue, is a physician; they both understand the need for prevention, diagnosis and a cure. 

Steve and his wife, Sue

Running for a charity gives Steve an “incentive to get out there” and motivates him as he trains for every race. Training for a marathon can feel like a “pretty selfish act” according to Steve. He is incredibly thankful to his family for supporting him through his decades of running. He mentions how runners often think to themselves, “Why did I sign up for this?” when they’re reaching the hardest point of the race. Steve shared, “That’s another thing about running for charity: you know why you’re out there.” 

Steve remains involved with ALZ Stars and the running community as a member of the Event Experience Planning Committee. “I’m weaning myself off in a way, because it becomes a lifestyle,” says Steve. He loved the careful attention team ALZ Stars showed their athletes last year, and he hopes to make this year even better. Their homebase at Congress Hote—mere steps away from the start and finish line—had “everything we could possibly want before and after the race,” says Steve. Steve even spoke with first-time marathoners and shared advice he gained from his decades of experience. For Steve, ALZ Stars felt like “a real team.” 

This year, Steve will shape the race weekend experience for future athletes and encourage them as they join the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia. He’ll guarantee they have an unforgettable race weekend, and who knows? Perhaps Steve will dust off his shoes and tackle marathon number 31.  

To learn more about the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon ALZ Stars team or Planning Committee, contact Tracy Collings at tjcollings@alz.org or 847.915.6025. 

For families struggling to communicate about their loved one’s signs of dementia, attend the virtual Dementia Conversations: Driving, Doctor Visits, Legal & Financial Planning on Wednesday, February 16, or Effective Communication Strategies and Author Valene Campbell online on Wednesday, February 23. 

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