For six years, Gary Heiman has been putting his blood sweat and tears into raising awareness of Huntington’s disease — literally.
The West Jefferson-based cyclist has been participating in the “Bike for the Cure” event since 2011, where riders travel for at least two weeks and 600 miles to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America convention.
“I remember the first year very well, I parked my car in Minneapolis and took a bus, which was something like a 13-hour ride all the way to South Dakota,” he said. “We slept at local churches, like the one in Black Hills [SD] and rode all the way to the convention in Minneapolis. The other organizers hadn’t rode through Montana or Wyoming so we rode through there for a bit too.”
The group was founded in 1998 by Marie Nemec and Charlotte Reicks as a way to spread awareness of Huntington’s.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Huntington’s disease is inherited genetically from the afflicted’s parents and causes a slow degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. The effects include impairment of a person’s ability to move but can afflict someone’s ability to think and speak. There is no cure.
Treatment is available and has significantly improved as the gene that causes the disease was discovered 1993. Research has come a long way but is still ongoing.
This year’s ride starts June 9 in Pleasant Hill, Missouri and ends June 22 in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
However, Heiman cannot ride due to a scheduling conflict, which disappointed the cycling enthusiast.
Outside of awareness, the “Bike for the Cure” group also raises money for research on the disease.
Heiman said this year the group is trying to raise $16,000 and is at $9,000 of the final goal.
“In the past, Madison County and the surrounding area, like Franklin and others, we’ve raised I think an average of $4,000 each year over the last six,” he said. “So my goal right now is to spread awareness and start the drive to continue to raise money for this cause.”
Heiman encourages anyone and everyone to donate online at hdsa.org/bikeforcure or mail to his home at 1060 Olmstead Road, West Jefferson. He can also be reached for questions at 614-439-9223.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.