Novant employee will run for 24 hours

His purpose? Alzheimer's awareness
Jun. 14, 2013 @ 01:26 PM

Rarely are marathon running and Alzheimer's Disease linked. On June 21, Rob French will raise awareness for the illness by staging a 24-hour run around the Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center.

French, 54, assists families who care for loved ones stricken with dementia as community education manager of the Geriatric Behavioral Health Center. In fact, he faced the same struggles firsthand in 2009 when his father, Robert J. French, passed away after an exhaustive battle with Alzheimer's.

"I see it every day, and it's a reminder of what my dad went through," French said. "We're helping families deal with a terrible time. If we can give them a little hope and get them stabilized, it's worth it."

From 7 a.m. Friday, June 21, to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 22, French will take advantage of the extended daylight on the longest day of the year to run as many miles as he can to raise awareness for patients and caregivers dealing with the disease.

Jane Wilder, director of community relations at TMC, credits French with the motivation to do something only he is capable of doing. She hopes his efforts are met with the support of community members who show their support by walking or running with him.

"I think we pass people everyday who are facing things and we are not aware of their circumstances," Wilder said. "There are common misconceptions regarding those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Family members and caregivers of these patients are often faced with situations many do not understand. I hope many come out for this event, because it helps us to understand situations better when we're more informed."

French is one of the region's premier ultra marathon runners over the age of 50. Ultra marathons span distances in excess of the standard 26-mile marathon, and French has tackled races of 50, 60 and 100 miles in length.

He said the event is his way of thanking caregivers like his mother for their service. Anyone who would like to show their support without walking or running can participate by documenting his laps or handing him food or water during the 24-hour period.

"The mental endurance required of the caregivers day in, day out is grueling. They have a very long day, because it doesn't go away," said French. "I don't know if I could have made it through my first 100-mile race without friends pacing me in the latter stages of that event. To have family members, running friends and hospital friends, it will be a huge boost."

French, who plans to keep moving the entire time said the encouragement from others will be very significant in his ability to complete his mission.

"It's really an exercise in mental fortitude. That's going to be the hard part," French said. "I can go out there and run for eight or 10 hours, but after that, it's going to really be about my head. Hopefully the memory of my dad keeps me moving."

Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or