Oakland resident walks 3,000 miles to raise funds for Alzheimer’s

By Deb Peel

From January 1 – December 31, 2020, Sharon Tyler walked every day through rain, heat, and even while wearing snowshoes to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association®. She walks for her Aunt Millie, her Aunt Betty, Gil Cortez, Carmen Vinella, Cecelia Ramirez and all those impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In her first year of walking for The Longest Day®, she crushed more than 3,000 miles and raised more than $10,000 in donations.

Sharon and her sign of how many miles she walked for Alzheimer's Assocation
Sharon and her miles walked sign

Inspired by a TV show
It all started in the summer of 2019 with the TV show Gentleman Jack. Sharon was such a huge fan that she joined the Facebook group. Someone in the group knew that the lead actress, Suranne Jones, supported the Alzheimer’s Society United Kingdom and suggested a walking fundraiser to support Alzheimer’s.

With the casual click of a “join” button and a commitment to walk 1,000 miles, Sharon and four other women from the United Kingdom (UK) agreed to raise funds for Alzheimer’s. Sharon says she thought it would be fun to be part of the UK virtual team, contributing to something meaningful as the only American walking solo from her home base of Oakland, California.

However, Sharon had one caveat. She wanted to support a local organization, specifically, the Alzheimer’s Association.

Learning about the Alzheimer’s Association
Sharon’s first Alzheimer’s volunteering experience had a profound and lasting impact. At the invitation of a friend, she spent time playing games with attendees of an adult day care and helped with a fundraiser at Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay. Coincidentally, this is also where she first head of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Volunteering with Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay put faces to Alzheimer’s in a way that she would never forget. Those faces came back to her when she decided to start what would become her 3,000 mile journey to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

First Steps
Sharon started walking five miles a day, then nine miles a day, and crunched her way through a snowstorm while visiting Utah. With a determined spring in her step, she exceeded her original 1,000-mile goal by May 2020.

During her journey, Sharon kept reflecting on the way the Alzheimer’s Association had been helpful to her in the past, how valuable its literature had been when she was learning about the disease her family members and friends were living with. Compelled to keep on walking, she decided to transition her walk to a fundraiser specifically for The Longest Day.

Sharon hikes to end Alzheimer's
Sharon on a hike

The Longest Day
The Longest Day, a signature fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. On June 20, people from across the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through a fundraising activity of their choice. Many, like Sharon, will pursue a fundraising activity long before June 20.

Sharon’s walking activity proved a natural fit for The Longest Day. She carved out three to four hours a day to walk, including a walk on the summer solstice (June 20), the actual longest day of the year.  “Alzheimer’s is a disease that touches everyone,” says Sharon. “It doesn’t discriminate. I believe we’re all in it together and my fundraiser helps the Alzheimer’s Association do the work that must be done.”

For Sharon, every day is a day to shine her light on the darkness of Alzheimer’s, walking and engaging friends, family, and social media followers as her miles unfold. She stays connected and keeps current and potential donors apprised of her progress with a monthly email and regular Facebook posts, guiding them to make their tax-deductible donation with a link to her Longest Day participant web page.

Support from local businesses
Sharon’s UK team members continue to be supportive and came up with a unique way to engage local businesses. One of the UK members identified businesses along her daily walking route and invited them to sponsor her effort.

She had particular success with a café at which people sat outdoors. Every time she would walk by, she would take the time to greet the patrons and letting them know why she was walking. Eventually, staff and patrons alike, began to expect her, and looked forward to watching her rack up the miles.

In addition to the café donating to the UK team member’s fundraiser, they also held a special cupcake day where patrons were able to drop a donation in a tin. This type of one-time activity, or an on-going activity that works for the business, may be a creative way to boost fundraising for The Longest Day.

Getting a local sponsor
It was a bit of a surprise when Sharon heard from Blue Beyond Consulting, her sister-in-law’s company. Her sister-in-law had seen her posts on Facebook and wanted to help sponsor Sharon’s efforts.

Blue Beyond generously agreed to donate $1 for every mile walked. But Sharon also had something special planned, a way to end her first year of walking with a bang. On December 10, Sharon, along with her brothers, walked 23 miles through four San Francisco Bay Area cities, triumphantly completing her personal longest day ever in Castro Valley. Blue Beyond awarded a 23-mile bonus to its sponsorship, nudging its contribution up to $4,000.

In a Facebook shout out, Blue Beyond Consulting praised Sharon for her fundraising success and her values. Blue Beyond said, “During a year as tumultuous as 2020 was, we’re inspired to hear stories like this – of people going above and beyond to live their values, do good, and make our world a brighter place.”

Sharon hikes near Mount Diablo for Alzhiemer's
Sharon hikes near Mount Diablo

Stepping forward into 2021
Sharon has raised more than $1,600 and is now a Solstice Champion. In fact, in 2020 she raised a total of $10,179 and walked 3,316 miles.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon maintains a close bond with her UK walking friends, hoping to meet them in person once the pandemic is over. Sharon was spot on – walking has been a whole lot of fun.

The Longest Day continues to be Sharon’s mechanism for making a difference in 2021. While Sharon is no longer walking 10 miles a day, she is planning to do a walk in June this year. Navigating the hilly streets and pathways near her home, she walks with a purpose, to end Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementias.

You can donate to Sharon’s team, Sharon Tyler/SJ Milers, or sign up for The Longest Day and start your own team at alz.org/thelongestday. Let Sharon’s light inspire the light that you want to shine for someone you love.

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