Running for Alzheimer’s: A Mother-Daughter Bond that Lasts the Distance

Former competitive gymnast and cheerleader Brittany Gelineau Murray says, “Health has always been a big part of my life and something I really enjoy.” This attitude is something she inherited from her parents. While at the University of Memphis, Brittany started going on runs with her mom, Sylvia Gelineau.

A short while after college, when Brittany was 23, her mother Sylvie was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. “It was so unexpected,” Brittany says. “She was only 52 and had been active and healthy her whole life.”

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills. There are approximately 44 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia. In the U.S., an estimated 5.8 million people of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease, and 5% of those individuals have early onset (under age 65).

“We’re rare in that I’m young caring for her and how young she was when she was diagnosed. It’s my passion to raise awareness for the disease,” Brittany says.

The second year after her mother’s diagnosis, Brittany and her mother started participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Memphis. They would walk several miles together every day. Now that her mom can no longer stand up on her own, Brittany has continued participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to keep the tradition going.

“We fell in love with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You don’t just pay a registration fee, show up, run, and leave,” says Brittany.

As part of the event, there is the Promise Garden Flower Ceremony. Everyone receives a garden flower that signifies why they are participating in the event—from caregivers to patients and friends and family.

“You can look around and see why people are supporting it. We all make a promise to end Alzheimer’s.”

The journey with her mom has given Brittany a new mission to keep her heart and brain healthy so she does not get Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Running has always been a form of therapy and stress relief for her. “I’ve turned it into a passion, and it gives me a break from caregiving,” she says.

Over the past two years, Brittany has become more competitive with running. She’s competed in races and finished her first half marathon.

“I run every day for my mom. Since she can no longer run, she’s my motivation and inspiration for everything that I do. It’s heartbreaking that she used to run and bike every day and now she can’t even stand. I don’t want that to happen to me,” Brittany says.

Brittany also started volunteering with The Alzheimer’s Association and the planning committee for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which will be held Nov. 9 at Tiger Lane. Registration begins a 9 am, the Promise Garden Flower Ceremony is at 10 am, and the walk begins at 10:30 am. The event is wheelchair-friendly. To register, visit Act.alz.org/memphis.

By Christin Yates

Photo by Tindall Stephens

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