RALEIGH, N.C. — Among the many life-altering changes from the coronavirus pandemic, festivals, 5Ks and events that raise money for research and treatments of a variety of diseases have had to flee from their preferred springtime schedule.
Local organizers were forced to postpone their annual Sola Coffee Hot Mini 5K
race to fund research aimed at curing ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.
When WRAL News visited Sola Coffee
in North Raleigh on Feb. 26, John and Jeanee
Luther’s shop was filled to the brim with customers. At that time, a viral disease brewing in China was likely on no one's mind.
On that brisk winter day, shop co-owner Jeanee Luther moved around on her motorized chair, greeting customers. Two years earlier, she recalled the earliest signs of what was to become a long fight against ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
ALS is a disease of the nervous system that progressively saps the muscles of strength. In later stages, it can affect a person's ability to breathe or swallow without assistance. It's labeled as an underfunded disease, "and there's nothing at this point that they have found slows down or cures ALS," said John Luther.
Now, due to the coronavirus, the couple's 5K event and many other seasonal fundraisers are left hanging. At first, Jeanee Luther says, facing the possibility of canceling the event was difficult.
"It was disappointing because it was so personal to us," she said.
It was also a personal issue for Dave and Andrea Peet, close friends of the Luthers. The Peets began a non-profit organization in which the Luthers partnered with to start their ALS fundraiser.
Andrea Peet was diagnosed with ALS almost six years ago at the age of 33. Before the diagnosis, she was an active competitor in triathalons and marathons. She still has the ability to pedal a low, three-wheel tricycle.
Peet also participated with Google and ALS TDI as they developed new speech recognition software designed to help people like her with communication and other tasks. The software learns to recognize her voice through the use of her smartphone. Her voice commands help her lock and unlock doors as well as turn on and turn off lights.
Before the pandemic changed the race calendar across the country, Andrea Peet, accompanied by her husband, Dave, had participated in 16 marathons with a goal of 50 marathons in 50 states.
"I just keep riding thinking my legs will give out," Andrea Peet said. "But they haven't yet."
When finally faced with the decision to cancel or reschedule their event, the Peets and Luthers found an available alternative date that would not conflict with other fundraising events. The new Sola Hot Mini-5K is now scheduled for June 6.
"That was a happy day," said John Luther. "People were really bummed thinking it might be canceled."
Luther said he is confident and thankful that donors and participants who are close to their cause won’t forget about it when June rolls around, hopefully with the pandemic restrictions far behind.
"There’s a community aspect to it," he said. "There’s a desire by people to be part of something that is bigger than they are."