John Willingham makes fight against Alzheimer’s a team effort

It may be a long journey to finally defeat Alzheimer’s. John Willingham is making the trip on his bike.

Did you know?

More than 16 million people in the U.S. are living with cognitive impairment, including an estimated 5.1 million Americans age 65 and older who may currently have Alzheimer’s disease, according to statistics cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Willingham is an avid cyclist. He loves taking in the scenic views around him as he slices through the air on his touring bike. He also loves the little wins of pushing himself, whether that’s going for that extra mile or shaving a few seconds off of his riding time.

When John’s not riding, he’s the Regional Vice President of Operations of the UHS Behavioral Health Division. Judging from the division’s continual growth in terms of facilities and the number of individuals his group is able to help, John’s drive and commitment goes far beyond biking.

In 2013, his work life, love of biking and desire to help others would merge. John heard about the A Ride to Remember in South Carolina. It’s a three-day event where cyclists ride from Simpsonville to Charleston to raise money and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association.

John had never ridden a bike across the state before. This event tempted him with two challenges. The first: to see if he could do the ride. The second: getting sponsors who would donate to his ride, per mile, to help him fund Alzheimer’s research.

He couldn’t resist. He signed up. In his first year of riding in the event, John rode two of the three days. While short of his goal, he still called it “a remarkable experience.” The performance was even more impressive if you measure it by contributions raised. Even in two days, John earned enough to become one of the event’s top fundraisers.

A remarkable experience.

John Willingham, Regional Vice President of Operations, UHS Behavioral Health Division

While a good start, John wanted to do it again as he was driven by two new challenges. One: complete the entire three-day event. Two: raise more money than before.

John trained even harder for the ride. To top his fundraising goal, he tapped into passion and caring of his UHS team. Recruiting staff and colleagues, he helped create the the “Carolina Center Psych-Lists” riding team. Together, they participated in the 2014 A Ride to Remember in South Carolina event. As part of the team, John not only completed the entire 250-mile ride, he again made it as one of the top fundraisers.

Helping people is part of behavioral health. For some, helping is a lifestyle. Perhaps that's why John and other riders continue to be involved with A Ride to Remember. Together they’ve raised money for the state’s Alzheimer’s Association each year since 2013.

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's*

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood/personality

*Alzheimer’s Association