In this family, even the hamster walks to end Alzheimer’s

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For Team Hamsters, of San Francisco, participation in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a family affair.

Craig Bergman, his wife, Janea Nakagawa, and their children, Alec and Lauren, will be participating in the San Francisco Walk for the second year. They will also be joined by team mascot, Honey.

How did you come up with your team name?

Our kids, Alec and Lauren, came up with the name. Prior to participating in our first Walk to End Alzheimer’s last year, we had gotten a pet hamster. The kids really loved the hamster, so they wanted to name the team, Team Hamsters.

Craig with team mascot

They also wanted to take hamster, Cloud, on the Walk, which we did. This year our new hamster, Honey, will be joining us. We put her cage in a cart that we borrow and pull her along

Why did you get involved in the Walk?
I was looking for a way for our family to give back to the community. While searching on a website with volunteer opportunities, it just hit me.

My sister, Jill, is living with Alzheimer’s disease. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s would be a great thing to do. This will be our second year participating.

How do you raise funds?
Last year I posted on Facebook and the fundraising really took off. I sent out an email to my friends and family.

We also had a bake sale prior to the Walk in front of our house. Neighbors and friends donated food and baked goods for the sale. It was really fun.

My in-laws raise wagyu cows. My mother-in-law donates 20 pounds of Kobe ground beef.

We have another friend, Chef Lamia, who runs a pop up waffle restaurant. This year she is going to donate her time and materials to use the beef and make savory waffles. It’s going to be a bigger bake sale this year.

Tell us about your sister.
Jill’s life is very much like the character in Still Alice. Several years ago, she and her husband, Brady, were both professors at University of Montana.

While in the middle of teaching a lecture, Jill blanked as to what she was doing. That triggered her to see a doctor and start having tests to find out what was wrong.

Jill was 50 when she was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She’s now 56.

Jill and Craig

Everything in her life became about writing herself notes and reminders. It was really difficult.

Their daughter, Emma, was a teenager at the time. She graduated from high school two years ago.

Emma took a year off before she went to college. She wanted to spend more time with her mom before the disease progressed.

Jill hasn’t worked in a long time. She doesn’t know her family anymore. She now lives in a memory care community in Montana.

How has Jill’s illness impacted your family?
Early on, Jill would come out to visit us. She’d have to ask where things were over and over, which made her feel like a burden. Then she’d begin to cry, which was hard. Later she stopped realizing what she was going through and it didn’t bother her as much.

It has been difficult for us to help much, since we are so far from them. At this point, she doesn’t know me as her brother. I visited her a few months ago. She didn’t recognize me or Brady.

What is your favorite part of Walk day?
It’s the excitement of getting there, seeing it all set up and seeing the different teams.

Team Hamsters on Walk day

Everyone is in a great mood. You can talk to anybody.

I appreciate all of the volunteers who help with the logistics. They are a lot of fun.

We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to do the same thing and put an end to this disease.

What would you tell others about the Walk?
I would encourage people to get involved, start a team and do the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This disease can affect anyone.

I primarily got involved because I’m thinking about my children and their generation. I don’t want them to have to go through this.

You can make a difference and have a lot of fun at the same time. It’s a blast!

You can join Team Hamsters at the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s on November 10. Register now.

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