Athlete honors father, family by running marathon to fight Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s runs deep in Alyssa Johanson’s family: her great-aunt and grandmother both passed away from the disease, and her father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s nearly four years ago. An athlete her whole life, Alyssa joined the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon ALZ Stars team to raise awareness and funds for a cure. 

Alyssa began long-distance running after college. “I remember watching a friend run a marathon back in 2019 and was so moved by her run that I woke up the next day and signed up for my first marathon,” she says.  

For her second marathon, Alyssa wanted to make her miles matter beyond the personal achievement. She discovered the Alzheimer’s Association charity team, ALZ Stars. 

“Raising money for a cause so close to one’s heart helps to lessen the burden and grind of marathon training,” shares Alyssa. “I signed up to run with the official 2020 ALZ Stars team and unfortunately due to COVID, we couldn’t run in-person in Chicago.” However, the pandemic didn’t stop Alyssa from making a tremendous impact.

“I still chose to run it on my own at home in California after raising over $6,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association,” says Alyssa. Her entire family – including her father – celebrated with her at the finish line.

Currently our highest ALZ Star fundraiser with over $12,900 raised for Alzheimer’s care, support and research, Alyssa is traveling to Chicago to conquer the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. She joins hundreds of ALZ Star athletes who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

“It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have towards every individual who has helped me along the way — those who have donated to my fundraisers, trained with me, sent me a motivational text message. Doing something outside of your comfort zone with the support of an entire army of supporters is one of the most rewarding feelings that life has to offer.”

Alyssa’s fundraising has had a huge impact for individuals and caregivers facing Alzheimer’s – a responsibility she is well-acquainted with. “I moved home in August of 2020 to help my mom with caregiving duties, which lasted for about a year and half,” Alyssa shared. Her father’s disease eventually progressed, causing them to place him in a long-term memory care home this past March. 

Grieving a loved one with advancing Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t happen in a straight line. Some days I wake up hopeful, energized by the reminder that life can be so fragile so we must all make the most of it while we’re here, and other days I wake up deeply depressed, missing my father, knowing that while he is still alive, he is no longer the man that he used to be, stuck inside of a body and brain that are failing him.” 

Alyssa’s father won’t be in Grant Park to celebrate Alyssa when she crosses the finish line, but he will be on her mind as she runs. “My dad won’t be there this time around, but I’ll have him, my grandma, and my great aunt in my thoughts along every mile of the race as my motivation!”

Learn more about ALZ Stars and join the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon team at act.alz.org/ALZStars2023

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