Christopher Pendergast, a 19-year ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patient and advocate, along with ALS patient Steve DePascale, their families friends and other supporters, led the charge as they rode onto the Stony Brook University campus on June 2 to a display of 6,000 flickering pinwheels. The pinwheels represented the American lives lost each year to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. During Stony Brook’s “Ride for Life” Celebration and Remembrance Ceremony, Pendergast presented a check for $1 million from the Ride for Life organization to Stony Brook. He also received a gift from Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., President Stony Brook University – a Seawolves baseball jersey with Pendergast’s name and Lou Gehrig’s number 4 on it. The Remembrance Ceremony was held on the same day that Yankee great Lou Gehrig passed away from ALS in 1941 shortly before turning 38.
President Stanley presented Pendergast with the personalized Stony Brook Seawolves baseball jersey at the start of the ceremony as a special gift of appreciation from the University to Pendergast for his incredible journey with ALS and support to Stony Brook. He called attention to the jersey as “symbolic of Christopher as a champion, a champion against ALS, a champion for the ALS Center of Excellence at Stony Brook that bears his name, and as a champion in life.”
The Stony Brook ceremony was a cornerstone event of the 15th annual Ride for Life, which began in Riverhead on May 29 and continues until June 9, when Pendergast and other riders and supporters cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to complete the 12-day power wheelchair trek across Long Island.
Started in 1998 by Christopher Pendergast, who is recognized nationally for his patient advocacy, the Ride for Life raises awareness and funds for ALS, a fatal neurodegenerative disease. The Ride has raised more than $3 million for ALS research since its inception. The Ride helps support Stony Brook Medicine’s Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence, the only ALS Association certified center on Long Island.
Pendergast, Founder and President of the Ride for Life, remains committed to helping find a cure for ALS. He presented President Stanley and the Co-Directors of Stony Brook’s ALS Center of Excellence with a check reflecting the Ride for Life organization’s recent $500,000 donation matched by the Simons Foundation Challenge Grant, providing a total impact of $1 million to help fund research at the Center and support the development of an ALS Clinical Trials Program at Stony Brook.
The Remembrance Ceremony also included a tribute to patients lost to ALS. Ninety names were recited to mark the number of minutes between deaths from ALS in the United States. The names of those lost to ALS were read by family members and friends, and a pinwheel was planted for each individual lost to ALS in their honor.
Songs “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Blowin in the Wind” – symbolizing that a cure for ALS is blowing in the wind – was performed by Amy Cruthers, a music teacher in the Northport School District. As a final tribute, family members of six individuals involved in the Ride who passed away this year released six white doves out of a basket in honor their loved ones.