Riding for dementia awareness in the RBC GranFondo Whistler
On Saturday, September 8, Kelly Newton participated in the RBC GranFondo Whistler – a 122-kilometre bike race along the Sea-to-Sky corridor – in honour of her father, Chris, who is living with dementia. Kelly and her two sisters called their dad “Superman” while they were growing up, and, like a superhero, he inspired them: “My dad taught us that we can do anything, take on any challenge and always try our best,” Kelly says.
Chris was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 57, and now at 62, is living in a full-time assisted living facility. Kelly, 28, hopes that her ride can bring attention to young onset dementia, and show other younger British Columbians affected that they aren’t alone.
“Having a parent diagnosed so early is especially hard at the beginning because you’re not expecting dementia, and working out a diagnosis can be challenging” Kelly says. Her advice for people in a similar position is to not be afraid to talk about what is going on, ask for help, and to ensure others around you do the same. Kelly recounts: “I saw my mom get exhausted because she was trying to do everything herself, but could only do so much. It can be difficult to ask for help, and to talk about what is going on because you can feel embarrassed, but once we let ourselves rely on friends, family, and eventually hired help, things got easier.”
An avid cyclist, Kelly was already planning on participating in the GranFondo and was on a training ride when it occurred to her to turn the ride into a fundraiser to honour her father. “My dad was always a big mentor for me in so many ways, but was particularly a huge supporter of me when it came to athletics. He coached my soccer and softball teams when I was growing up, and he played a big part in me earning a scholarship to play field hockey at university in Maine.”
Kelly set up a fundraising page through the Society’s Anything for Alzheimer’s fundraising initiative and was blown away by the support she received. “I was nervous at first about sharing my family’s story, but was surprised by the vast amount of people who wanted to help,” she says. Kelly soon raised over $10,000 – more than doubling her initial goal. A friend of hers, Carson, even joined her team to fundraise in honour of his grandfather who recently passed away from dementia, and helped raise an additional $6,000. Her sisters, close friends and boyfriend also played a large role in spreading the word about her fundraiser, sharing information with others as to how to get involved. She says, “It really showed me that the disease affects your wider circle, as I had friends who I hadn’t spoken to in years reach out with similar stories and experiences.”
Kelly finished the race in five hours and 24 minutes – a personal best for her. “I thought of my dad quite often during the race, and it really helped me push through the tough parts,” she says.
Another person pushing Kelly through is her mom. “After my dad’s diagnosis, my mom stepped up as the strong leader of our family,” Kelly says, “She’s so tough. The experience has been so hard for her, and of course she’s had her emotional days, but I’m just so proud of the way she has handled things.”
And what was her dad’s biggest superpower? “He was such a loving and supportive dad and set the best example of what a good husband and a partner can be,” Kelly says. “He was always there for my mom and his daughters, always putting family first. It’s such a huge gift growing up seeing that and I wish more than anything that I could tell him how much that means to me.”