While most people get caught up in life’s daily distractions, one person has devoted her efforts to aid those in need.
Cathy Speck, a Davis resident, is one of the top ten finalists nominated for the Tom’s of Maine and Care2.com Hero Next Door contest for her advocacy of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). Diagnosed with ALS, Speck is eligible to win $2,500 and have another $2,500 donated to the ALS Association.
“I am excited to see how the community reacts to it,” Speck said. “Now that we are number one, it just shows the power and compassion and generosity of our community. All of these horrible things happen all over the world, but in our small oasis right here to see people change as they fight for something in common, is really encouraging.”
Speck was diagnosed at age 49 with familial ALS shortly after her brother Larry passed away from the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease at this point in time. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are affected, creating muscle weakness and atrophy. Over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, and patients have on average three to five year life expectancy.
With four of her other family members affected by ALS – at 13, Speck lost her mother to the disease – she is well aware of the disease’s power. Busy in her efforts to spread awareness, Speck educates junior high school students, her co-workers and other individuals she comes across.
Speck serves as the safety director at the Davis Food Co-op, where in her seven years of service, the store has only had one accident.
“We have all been working hard to support her in the contest, and it’s really awesome that she’s being nominated on a national stage, which speaks very loud for her spirit and who she is and what she’s trying to do,” said Dustin Scroggins, Davis Food Co-op’s assistant safety director and membership clerk.
Speck lives with her wife Linda, who she has been with for over 16 years. Outside of teaching the public about the disease, the couple enjoys performing music and singing. Speck can be seen traveling around in her brightly decorated walker to stir public interest about the disease.
“It’s kind of my mission to raise awareness and funding for ALS,” Speck said. “ALS is not a popular disease, like breast cancer or [one] that has celebrities talking about it. Most people don’t know a lot about it, so they don’t donate funds. By winning this contest, ALS will get some national attention and hopefully some funding for research.”
Currently Speck is suffering the most from extreme fatigue, fasciculation and increasing muscle weakness and loss. Having been an athlete all her life, Speck described herself as once always on the go and constantly in motion, whether with her band or in everyday activities. Speck used to be a cross-country biker, but now she is unable to ride a bike and is limited to her walker.
“There’s a lot of research being done throughout the country,” said Björn Oskarsson, assistant professor of clinical neurology and director of UC Davis’ multidisciplinary ALS clinic. “Here at UC Davis we are involved in clinical trials, and right now we are experimenting in one national study of a drug. We are looking at developing stem cell cures for the disease, but right now our stencils are for mice. Hopefully it won’t be too long to take that to humans. Hopefully in the next year or two.”
Speck is currently in first place in the contest, which will end on Feb. 26. To read more about Cathy Speck or to vote, visit care2.com/hero-next-door/372/description.
SAMANTHA BOSIO can be reached at email@example.com.