Carson City coworkers host 5k fundraiser to honor families

Update: The date for this event has been postponed to next year, September 18, 2021.

Brenda Collings and Ryan Blaver of Carson City are coworkers and friends. Both Ryan and Brenda lost their fathers to Alzheimer’s disease and now Brenda’s mother is living with Alzheimer’s. To honor their loved ones, Brenda and Ryan have come together for The Longest Day®, hosting a 5k to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Richard “Coach” Blaver

Everyone knew Coach
Richard “Coach” Blaver, Ryan’s father, was a well-known middle school teacher and basketball coach in Dayton, Nevada where he taught for many. He was beloved by his community and taught many local youth.

When Ryan was growing up, there were no quick errands with his dad. “A 20-minute trip to the grocery store would turn into two hours,” shared Ryan “because he’d stop and talk to everyone.”

Towards the end of his teaching career, the school’s principal noticed that Coach kept forgetting to renew his teaching license. “Looking back, you can see the signs,” said Ryan. “I didn’t notice them because I wasn’t working with him.

“When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010, the disease was like wildfire. It just took over everything.” Eventually Coach moved into a care facility: first in Fallon, then in Carson City.

“What was special was that students my dad had taught when they were kids were now caring for him at the facility,” said Ryan. “They all called him Coach.” Coach passed away in 2018 at the age of 71.

Two parents, one disease, 30 years apart
Both of Brenda’s parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her father, John, was diagnosed in 1984 when Brenda was 18, and died in 1990. More than 30 years later, her mom, Catalina, is living with Alzheimer’s.

Brenda and John who was living with Alzheimer's at Brenda's graduation
Brenda and her dad on graduation day

When Brenda was growing up, John and Catalina, had opposite personalities.  While John was very kind and friendly, Catalina was a rule follower, where everything was very black and white. However, once they were diagnosed, their personalities began to change.

“Dad became really crass,” said Brenda. “He started telling me dirty jokes. Since I was 16 at the time, I thought he must think I was old enough to hear these jokes.”

Catalina started noticing that something was wrong when John stopped making house payments. “My mom accused him of having a girlfriend,” said Brenda. “When she confronted him about it, he would just start laughing, but that was his coping mechanism.

“This was in 1984 when most people didn’t know what Alzheimer’s was. We thought he was going to get better. When my mom looked back, she would say ‘What if I had divorced him? What if he had been all on his own?’”

Brenda’s mom and her family

When Brenda’s mom began to show signs, Brenda was in denial. She kept thing, what are the odds that both of her parents would get Alzheimer’s disease? “Mom would talk about dying all the time,” said Brenda. “I thought she was just depressed. She’d wander off and I’d tell myself she was just exercising.

“Her personality also changed, she became so sweet and nice. It made caring for her that much easier. I just can’t believe I’m here again.”

Fighting Alzheimer’s together
Brenda and Ryan are coworkers. As the disease progressed for Ryan’s dad, Brenda was there as a supportive friend and someone who understood what he was going through.

Ryan really wanted to come up with a way to honor his dad by hosting a fundraiser. First he tried a golf tournament. He quickly realized that it was going to be more challenging than he thought.

“I hardly had anyone signing up. Everyone thought they could just show up at the last minute,” said Ryan. “Brenda understood what I was going through with my dad, because her mom has the disease. Instead, she suggested we just do a 5k run.”

Brenda has experience with 5ks and thought she could help. “I felt that a golf tournament was too narrow of a demographic of people who could join,” said Brenda. “I’ve done 5k fundraisers before for the high school. They’ve been really successful.”

Carson City Capitol

Bringing a fundraiser to their community
Both Ryan and Brenda have been to the Reno-Sparks Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but since they both live in Carson City, they wanted to do something that was local. “We don’t have a Walk in Carson City,” said Ryan. “Not everyone wants to drive to Reno to do a Walk. We thought it would be nice to have something in our community here.”

Brenda says, “The nice thing about a 5k is that anyone can participate. You can walk, run, or just stroll with your kids. Anyone can honor their loved ones. I see it more as a community fundraiser, to help both the caregivers and the people with the disease.

“What we’d really like is for there to be food trucks, and a memory wall. We want to have a space for people to hang out even if they don’t want to do the 5k.”

Getting connected with the Alzheimer’s Association
Brenda and Ryan both thought it would be best to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association to see how they could work together to make this fundraiser happen. They were introduced to one of the Alzheimer’s Associations signature fundraisers, The Longest Day.

Alzheimer's Association staff at the Reno, NV office
Alzheimer’s Association staff at the Reno office

The Longest Day is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. On June 20, thousands of participants from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice. Together, they use their creativity and passion to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

While The Longest Day may be celebrated on June 20, one of the great things about event is the ability to host a fundraiser on any day of the year. Knowing this, Brenda and Ryan’s originally decided to have their 5k in May near the anniversary of Coach’s death.

The health and safety of participants in this event is Brenda and Ryan’s top priority. Because of the recent COVID-19 illness the event day has been moved to September 12.

“I reached out to Niki Rubarth, the Regional Director of the Reno office,” said Brenda. “She gave me all the information I needed to be successful. She even connected my stepdad with some great resources to help him better take care of my mom.”

Eventually Brenda and Ryan met Gabby Brackett, the Constituent Events Manager in Reno, who has been helping them ever since. “Gabby is amazing,” said Ryan. “I’m so glad to be working with her.”

Brenda's mom takes care of husband John who was living with Alzheimer's
Brenda’s mom and dad

Raising funds to support others
Brenda and Ryan are hosting the fundraiser because their families have been touched by Alzheimer’s, but as Ryan says, “Everyone knows someone who has it. Even if it’s just a friend, it’s hard to watch.”

Brenda says, “It’s one of the few diseases that doesn’t have a cure. You just have to buckle up and prepare for the ride. There are no survivors yet, and that’s huge. We need to find a cure and figure this out.”

In addition to finding a cure, Brenda and Ryan both hope to raise awareness. “This disease is emotionally and financially draining,” said Brenda. “Fundraisers are imperative to raising awareness.”

The money raised doesn’t just go to fund a cure,” Ryan shares. “It also goes to help families care for their loved ones. The cost of finding care is astronomical. It’s hard to do it all on your own.”

Looking forward to making a difference
Despite having to move the event to a later date, both Ryan and Brenda are looking forward to the big day.

Coach and his granddaughter

“I’m excited to see how many people turn out,” says Ryan. “I’ve been a stay at home Dad for my two little ones, which means Brenda has been doing a lot of the prepping since I haven’t had the time. Now that they’re in daycare I’m looking forward to taking control. Before I know it, it will be September.”

Brenda says, “I started doing this to help Ryan, but it’s been an amazing experience that is so beneficial. The Alzheimer’s Association does so much for families, caregivers and people with the disease. It makes me feel like the effort is so worthwhile. If this event is successful, I’d love to do this every year.”

You don’t have to host a 5k race to participate in The Longest Day. It can be as simple as a BBQ with friends, or a walk through the park. Sign up for The Longest Day at alz.org/thelongestday.

Brenda and Ryan’s 5k has been moved to September 12. To register visit awalkruntoremember.itsyourrace.com/register/

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