GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 1,500 people spent Saturday morning raising awareness and money for supporting those with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.
Nana’s Run was created in 2014 to honor the legacy of Char “Nana” VanderLaan, who passed away from complications associated with the neurodegenerative disease.
“We’ve started a great community here of support,” co-founder Cassie DeVos, VanderLaan’s granddaughter, told 24 Hour News 8 Saturday. “There’s people to talk to, there’s somebody else who’s going through the same thing. If you have questions, there’s somebody here to help you through and support you and see you through this terrible disease. We’re all here for everybody.”
The race came a few weeks after retired Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Scott Bylsma, 48, passed away from ALS. He was diagnosed in May 2017 — less than a year after being named GRPD’s officer of the year.
Roughly 200 “Team Scott” shirts could be seen among the crowd of participants as they took off down Monroe Avenue in Downtown Grand Rapids.
Bylsma’s fight with the disease led him to a special bond with Kennedy Arney, a 7-year-old from St. Joseph who dreams of being an officer one day. It’s believed she may be one of the youngest people ever diagnosed with juvenile ALS.
“When a movie called ‘Zootopia’ came out, I watched it and it inspired me,” Arney said in response to being asked why she wants to protect and serve.
GRPD Officer Jenny Rood recognized Arney as an honorary officer before the race began.
“I love seeing little ones and hearing little ones look up to us and want to be a police officer. It shows that they see the good that we do for others and the difference we make within the community,” Rood said.
Since the 5K’s inception, more than $1.8 million dollars have been raised to support local programming and ALS research.