Son runs 32 miles for dad fighting Lou Gehrig’s disease
Carlsbad High School assistant basketball coach Jackson Strong, saw his 56-year-old father pushing himself to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, so he pushed himself to run 32 miles in honor of his dad and to raise money to help folks with the fatal disease, which has no cure
Jackson Strong’s life turned upside down on Jan. 31, 2020. That was when he found out that his dad had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He’ll always remember that morning when his then-56-year-old father took him and his sister, Katie, out to breakfast for a heart-to-heart talk.
Jackson found out that his dad had a disease, known also as ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control, typically leading to paralysis.
But the conversation did not stop there. Jackson’s dad, John Strong, said, “We got now.”
“You can’t change yesterday, can’t predict tomorrow, today is what we have, so let’s enjoy it and make the best of it,” John Strong said reflecting on what has brought him peace while battling ALS, which he said in a recent email.
“That has been his mantra and even though he has hard days, he continues to keep pushing,” Jackson, 23, said. Seeing his father pushing himself inspired Jackson last fall to run 32 miles in his honor to raise money and awareness about ALS.
That upbeat spirit of faith and hope has been the guiding light for the Strong family.
The day after learning about his father’s diagnosis, Jackson, then a senior at Humboldt State University who played for the school’s Lumberjacks basketball team, was slated to play a game at California State University San Marcos as part of a California Collegiate Athletic Association road tour. Jackson, who played the shooting guard position for the Lumberjacks, could have sat out the game.
“The news was devastating. It was extremely emotional. My head wasn’t really in the game,” Jackson said.
But he and his father share a love of basketball. His dad played collegiate basketball at the University of Akron along with high school basketball and so did Jackson. At Torrey Pines High School, Jackson was on the Falcons’ varsity basketball team his junior and senior years and was named the Palomar League’s most valuable player. He was listed on the first-team all-CIF. As a kid, Jackson shot hoops with his dad.
So Jackson played his heart out.
He scored a career-high 34 points while making eight three-point field goals in a 91-85 road CCAA conference overtime victory.
“After the game was over, my dad gave me a big hug and neither of us could hold back the tears,” Jackson said. “It was very overwhelming to share that moment together and it is something I will never forget.”
After graduating from Humboldt State six months later with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Jackson came back home to Cardiff to be with his family.
He watches basketball games with his dad now and takes walks. “The walks are a lot slower, but they mean even more to me now,” Jackson said. “My dad is focused on enjoying each and every day and remains positive.”
“ALS is a terrible disease with no cure and very little hope, but it has taught me many important lessons. Spending time with the people you love, doing what makes you happy, and enjoying each and every day the best you can because you never know how much time you have left,” Jackson said.
Jackson, an assistant coach for the Carlsbad High School boys basketball team, started training for marathons last summer with his friend Ian Aschieris. They ran a neighborhood half-marathon modified for COVID-19 precautions in August. Then they came up with the idea of doing a marathon fundraiser for the ALS Association in honor of Jackson’s father.
They picked a route that looped around the Ocean Air Recreation Center in Carmel Valley. “It was where I used to practice shooting as a kid and my dad would rebound for me,” Jackson said.
The run was in October and several friends joined while Jackson’s dad watched. Jackson and Ian had planned to finish a marathon — 26.2 miles — but once they reached the marathon mark, they kept running. After 5 hours, 20 minutes and 35 seconds, they completed 32 miles. Jackson’s dad’s favorite number is 32 and that was his dad’s high school basketball number.
“My dad is a man who has been dedicated to physical fitness his whole life. Whether it was playing basketball, swimming, biking or running, he has always been the person who pushed himself as far as he can,” Jackson said. “He still continues to push himself each and every day with his home workouts, but ALS is quickly deteriorating his abilities. For 32 miles, I pushed myself just like my dad has done.”
The run raised $25,000 in donations for the ALS Association for research and programs, services and resources to help local families with ALS.
“While being diagnosed with ALS has thrown our family a huge curveball, I am at peace knowing our kids will be successful in life. They have the values instilled in me by my parents — working hard, being nice, being responsible for your actions, living life with a moral compass, and, most importantly, treating others the way you’d want them to treat you,” John said.
“I can see the next chapter of their lives unfolding — that is very fulfilling,” said John, whose own father died of cancer at age 50 during finals week of his freshman year of college, just after he turned 19.
“What he, and what our family, is going through has reshaped how I live each day and I don’t take anything for granted, especially our time together,” Jackson said. “I do know that when someone you love receives this diagnosis it puts a lot of things in perspective about what is really important.”
Donations for the John Strong Run/Walk for ALS Research started by Jackson Strong can be made at http://web.alsa.org/site/TR/PersonalFund/SanDiego?px=8512418&pg=personal&fr_id=10044#.X1J57C2z3OR
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