20 years of Walk and still having fun

In 1999, Stephanie Hanna lost her grandmother, Gui, to Alzheimer’s. That was the first year she turned her sadness and anger at losing her grandmother into action, participating in the Reno-Sparks Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year, Stephanie chairs the Walk committee.

The Summer of 1999
Three years out of college, Stephanie Hanna received the call she had been dreading. Her grandmother, Hazel Garcia, lovingly called Gui (pronounced Guy), had passed away with Alzheimer’s.

“I had the best grandmother growing up,” shared Stephanie. “She put her world on hold and her entire focus was on me. I loved being with her so much that I was known to fake being sick so I could spend the day at her house while my mom went to work.”

Gui and Stephanie

When Stephanie was 15, Gui would let her take the wheel and drive them to McDonalds. At 16, Stephanie started noticing that her grandmother was getting confused with directions. A few short years later, during Stephanie’s first year of college, Gui was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“The disease progressed quickly,” Stephanie said. “By the time I came home from college to visit, my grandmother no longer recognized me and I didn’t recognize her.”

Stephanie was upset that that she and her grandmother were robbed of the time they could have spent together. It was on that day that she decided to join what was then called the Memory Walk, now the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

“I set out to collect donations,” Stephanie shared, “and on a cool September morning in 1999, my dog and I showed up to Mayberry Landing and walked with a few hundred other people around Caughlin Ranch.”

Showing up every year
In pouring rain, snowstorms or brilliant sunshine, Stephanie Hanna showed up on Walk day. “I’ve thought about not walking,” mentions Stephanie, “but then I think to myself ‘I can’t not raise money! I have to do this.’”

Stephanie has been at the Reno Walk every year. She stood proudly amongst her fellow walkers at the Reno Walk in 2000, despite having moved to San Francisco earlier in the year.

In 2008, with a three-month-old baby at home, she huddled shoulder to shoulder with her fellow walkers, a blanket of snow covering the ground.

Stephanie, her husband John and their three sons

And in 2009 at nine months pregnant, you could find her dressed in purple, holding her flower high during the promise flower ceremony.

“Walk is my way to continue to honor my grandmother. I keep her memory alive in my three little boys,” shares Stephanie. “It gives us a reason to talk about her.”

Twenty years later
This year will be Stephanie’s 21st Walk. “The Walk has gotten so much bigger!” Stephanie explained excitedly. “The first year I walked it was only a few hundred people.”

Since her first walk in 1999, the Reno Walk has outgrown four or five other locations. “We keep moving to bigger locations and getting bigger named sponsors,” boasts Stephanie, who is also the chair of the Walk Committee. “We’re raising more money and the community support has grown.”

Volunteering for the Walk
Stephanie has served on the Walk Committee several times over the years. 20 years after her grandmother’s death Stephanie decided to become the Committee Chair.

“I like doing it,” says Stephanie. “I remember when the Committee was five people, and now we have 20-25 people who are really dedicated to the Walk.”

Stephanie makes a big donation

Stephanie calls out to anyone who might be interested in volunteering. “We need fresh faces and ideas,” explains Stephanie. “It’s a 365-day operation that doesn’t start and stop on Walk day. People can get involved any time.”

Stephanie hopes that if Gui were still alive she’d be proud of Stephanie and what she’s accomplished over the last twenty years with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “She would want me to continue doing it because I was having fun,” shared Stephanie. “She always wanted me to have fun.”

You can join Stephanie’s team, friENDs for ALZ, or form your own team and join us for the Reno-Sparks Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 21 at the Sparks Marina in Sparks. Not in Sparks? Find the Walk to End Alzheimer’s near you at alz.org/walk.

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Find your local walk at alz.org/walk and click on the volunteer link.

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