CASPER, Wyo. — He’s running for his dad. And his two daughters, 23 and 20. And himself, physically fit and mentally sharp at 49.
And for all of the other families afflicted by the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s.
Glenn Caffery was in Casper on Tuesday morning. By Wednesday morning, he’s likely to be midway between Midwest and Wright.
Caffery left Seaside, Ore., on May 19, with no support other than a 60-pound baby jogging stroller loaded with camping supplies, a few clothes, emergency calories and water, and some repair supplies. He hopes to reach Misquamicut, R.I., about Aug. 6.
Caffery is running for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.
“Every dollar donated goes to research projects selected by a panel of scientists,” he said. “I did a lot of research in choosing a recipient, and I particularly wanted to focus on research.”
Caffery’s father ran a small insurance agency in Hartford, Conn., was fit and active.
“He was an athlete, he was very healthy,” Caffery said of his dad. But Alzheimer’s disease slowly robbed him of his health and his life.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder that generally strikes people over 65 but can occur in much younger people. Symptoms include memory loss, impaired judgment, disorientation, personality changes and a loss of language skills.
There is no known cure.
“As a young man in my 20s, there was a frustration that he could be so ill-equipped to do these basic things,” Caffery said. “While his diagnosis came at age 55, the onset was several years before that. He lost his ability to communicate very early. He became very aggressive and had severe debilitating physical effects.
“We all thought it was the oddest thing that Alzheimer’s would strike someone like him. He did word puzzles, he did exercises, all those things you read about in those lists in popular magazines. Now we know that Alzheimer’s is much more genetic, and while they are making a lot of progress in understanding the nature of the disease, absolutely nothing can be done to slow or stop it.”
So now that his daughters are grown, Caffery said the cross-country run “seemed like something I could do.”
He’s running along roadbeds, trying to average about 50 miles a day. He devours about 7,000 calories a day and is mindful of losing weight.
He has battled shoe problems, a bad ankle and an arthritic hip.
“People are really open to helping me out,” he said. “I am at the mercy of a 2-1/2-inch screen on my phone and my route is in Google maps, so I am always open to better suggestions.”
He admitted that in “some ways it’s anxiety-producing” that he doesn’t have a clear picture of where he’ll be past “two or three days’ focus.”
He tries to keep to 8.5- to 9-minute miles, walks uphill stretches, and tends to try to run in 10-mile stretches.
His nights are spent roadside camping between the road and the barrier fencing, in hotels, or hosted by family, where he loves a couch and a shower.
He said truckers are perfect and move over when they can, and that he gets many friendly waves and even frequent horns beeping in support.
“I am grateful and pleased. It has been so motivational,” he said.
When he’s not running coast to coast, he’s a lecturer and director of the information technology lab in the Department of Resource Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He lives in Leyden, Mass.