What would motivate a man, who has been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for twenty years, to accept an invitation to become part of a five-man team and row 3000 miles across the Atlantic?
As reported in LDS Living, Allan Alderman has been determined to live life to the fullest for the past eighteen years.
In 2001, after three months of extensive testing, his doctor told him he had ALS and possibly only two to five years to live.
Alan was forty years old with three young children, a new home, and a successful career. It took years of therapy, prayers, and denial to finally accept the realization that his life would end so soon.
He made a decision: the disease may take his life but he was not going to let it destroy his life. And it turned out that Alan was right and his doctor was wrong. Years later Alan found out that he has a rare type of ALS that progresses slowly.
He says that the doctors are unable to explain why he is still alive but Alan feels it is because he has a lot of work to do for the ALS cause and for ALS patients.
Tim Ryan and Row4ALS
Tim Ryan, the owner of twelve sports bars, has known Alan since 2001. Tim was Alan’s most ardent supporter after his diagnosis. In 2017, Tim came up with an idea to form a team and row across the Atlantic. He needed a team and a boat, but most of all he wanted it to be for a charitable cause. That was when he thought of Alan.
Tim asked Alan if he would help with fundraising and the charitable portion of the Talisker Whisky Challenge. Alan agreed with one stipulation: that he be part of the rowing team. Tim was startled that Alan would want to participate in a race dubbed “The World’s Toughest Row”, but he (almost reluctantly) agreed.
Alan Almost Backed Out
The race was scheduled to begin in December 2018 from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua. The dedicated crew trained hard. In fact, Alan almost backed out.
Three days before the race, the crew had a tough practice drill. Even though they took Dramamine and used anti-seasickness patches, Alan became very ill. He told his teammates that if he got sick again, he would have to withdraw.
Fortunately, he was able to get through the next drill so his place on the team was secure.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
The boat was twenty-eight feet by seventy inches of highly specialized carbon-fiber. It was said to be unsinkable. Of course, Alan immediately thought of the Titanic.
The journey took fifty-five days. After leaving the Canary Islands, the team did not see dry land for forty-nine days.
During the entire journey, the five-man team, including Alan, endured seasickness, blisters, sore hands, sore backs, and sore legs.
Thirty-foot waves occasionally crashed over the boat keeping the men in a constant state of “moisture.” Alan said he can not remember a minute when his feet were dry. The men never had more than ninety minutes of uninterrupted sleep as they rotated in three-hour shifts.
The tasteless freeze-dried food did not do much for their morale. The men would liven things up by describing what they would generally have for dinner at home.
Alan commented that although the team trained hard for the physical part of the race, they were not as prepared for the mental aspect of boredom, isolation, and the elements.
Yet the whole team managed to keep their morale up. They played music and transmitted their enthusiasm back to their families and friends. Each week they called them on their satellite phones or radioed with other boats.
Alan said that the best entertainment during the race was nature. Just being surrounded with sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and occasional rainbows was uplifting to Alan and the team.
One night the freeze-dried packs were replaced with fresh mahi-mahi that they caught. For the entire trip there were several birds following the boat. The crew decided that the birds were their guardians.
Finally, after fifty-five days and eleven hours the crew of the Row4ALS had the exhilarating experience of spotting land ahead.
Alan said he knew, during the race, that the mental toughness he learned from years of facing ALS would carry him through the two-month ordeal, and it did.
A Life of Dedication
Alan decided to spend whatever time he had on this earth raising awareness for ALS. The Row4ALS was only one segment of his dedication. For years he has been a mentor to other ALS patients and held fundraising events for ALS.
Alan said he would race again for ALS “in a heartbeat.”