Dealing with ALS — and running with it

At a recent Eldersburg Rogue Runners event, I was happily enjoying post-run scones, coffee and conversation with my fellow runners, when our hostess beckoned us to gather on the deck. There was someone — Dave Wilson — who wanted to make an announcement to the group.

I recognized Dave's name as a fellow ERR member and I recognized his face from social media. I wasn't sure if we had ever run together. I did not know the friendly, athletic man who stood before us, but I was about to learn a lot about the amazing courage and determination he possesses.


Dave stood, with his easy smile and an abundance of grace, before our large, assembled group and told us his story.

On September 9, 2016, Dave was diagnosed with ALS — Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This disease, which has no cure, cannot be overcome with medication or physical therapy. Nor can this disease be avoided by eating a healthier diet or exercising more. This disease is a death sentence.

Dave's first encounter with ALS was in June of 2006 when a close friend was diagnosed with the disease. His friend died nine months later. In May of 2007, Dave participated in the Fiesta 5K, an event created by The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins to serve as an annual fundraiser for ALS research. As Dave walked the 5K in honor of his friend, it dawned on him that he should be running instead. At that moment, Dave committed to running the 5K the following year and has been a participant every year since.

Longer races — including 10Ks, half marathons and a full marathon — soon followed before Dave suffered a tractor mowing accident that nearly cost him his left foot. In that moment, Dave was determined to be the best athlete he could be with whatever ability he had.

After 13 months of recovery and rehabilitation, Dave completed his second marathon and moved on to cycling, adding several duathlons and century rides to his growing race resume.

Though not a swimmer, Dave signed up for swim lessons and, three months later, tackled his first sprint triathlon. An Olympic distance and two half-distance triathlons came next, including the Savageman Triathlon at Deep Creek Lake, a race deemed "the hardest race on earth" by in March 2010 and, the "toughest triathlon" by in July 2015.

But his greatest achievement to date was completing his first full-distance triathlon in January, finishing first in his age group.

Throughout his life, Dave has struggled with difficult obstacles, though none as great as the obstacle he faces now: his battle with ALS.

Drawing on his determination to compete in as many events as he can for as long as he is able, Dave has set his sights on the ultimate prize in triathlon: the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Columnist's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on Dave Wilson's battle with ALS.