A 16-Hour Row to End Alzheimer’s: Heerdegen Fundraiser Continues to Make Waves

Jack Coakley

July 27, 2020

Last year, Financial Planner Chris Heerdegen hosted his inaugural Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser, Rowing to Remember. The event would take part during the association’s “longest day” campaign, held annually on the summer solstice. “The longest day campaign is a volunteer-driven event where we encourage communities to raise funds and awareness for the millions of Americans that live with Alzheimer’s,” said Julia Faulkner Pechlivanos, Executive Director of the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Chris’ idea was simple—to honor his late father who passed away from Alzheimer’s, he would hop on a rowing machine and row from sunup to sundown. This was no small feat; with only a few intermittent breaks Chris would be exercising the equivalent of 72 miles (almost 3 times the distance of a rowing marathon).

In 2019, Rowing to Remember ended up bringing in more than 100 rowers and attendees, raising almost $25,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. When the festivities ended, Chris was already hatching a plan for the following year. “We were looking to really hit it out of the park for the second annual event,” said Chris, “but as we all know, 2020 had different plans in mind.”

With everything that had been going on, Rowing to Remember was between a rock and a hard place. Facing indefinite lockdowns and a statewide fitness center ban, Chris said he was “fully ready to host the event on my back deck—maybe getting a few of my friends to bring over their row machines and do it with me—but that was going to be it.” He spent the next few weeks waiting to hear if some restrictions would be lifted. Chris would finally get the break he was looking for when the state of Ohio announced a re-opening of fitness facilities in early June. “This was just a small victory for us. We had the okay to work with The Fitness Shack [Chris’ local gym and event partner], but with only 10 days before the event, we only had 10 people signed up to row.” On top of attendance, they would now have to go above and beyond to make sure that all COVID-19 guidelines were being adhered to.

Against all odds, the event hosted dozens of rowers and a crowd looking to support the cause. “We had a full crew of rowers for most of the day. We were also extremely fortunate to have Rachel Snider from Toledo’s Chanel 13ABC come out in the morning and cover the event for a few hours, which lead to several last second donors and rowers!” Chris mentioned that this event started as a fundraiser but evolved into a community event when attendees started sharing their stories. “I had the chance to meet a young woman whose grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s not too long ago. He left her enough money to allow her to follow her dream of becoming a nurse, and next year she wants to honor him by rowing alongside me for the entire day.”

“Chris has this energy to him that inspires everyone around him,” said Carol Smietanski of the Alzheimer’s Association, who had the chance to assist Chris with the event. “This event was a dream he never gave up on and he has done a terrific job of stirring his community into action!”

After a whopping 16 hours of rowing and fundraising, Chris’ event brought over $18,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. “I would like to extend a huge thank you to The Fitness Shack, Inside the Five Brewing Company, Lena’s Italian Restaurant, and Mayberry Ice Cream for helping us put on the event. I also wouldn’t have been able to have done this without the love and support of my friends, families, neighbors, and community members who came out to row by my side or cheer us on. No matter the circumstances, we look forward to seeing you all at next year’s event!”

Thanks for sharing your story, Chris!
Looking to join the battle to #ENDALZ? Check out the Alzheimer’s Association website for more information.


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