Five years ago, an historic storm ravaged New Jersey. The coastline was ravaged, people lost their livelihoods, and homes were swept away in an instant. Super Storm Sandy devastated communities, but no matter how rough the winds and rains, nothing could stop Carlson’s Roughriders in their mission to end ALS.
Fran Carlson started the Carlson’s Roughriders team for the Seaside Walk to Defeat ALS in 2004 after her husband was diagnosed with ALS the previous year. She brought together family and friends to raise money and awareness for The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter because she saw how important patient programs were for her family. Fran and her team continued to walk every year, even after her husband passed away. It was first and foremost a worthy cause to end ALS, but it was also a day to have fun with the family at the beach and take in the food and rides.
When the storm wrecked the shore in 2012, Fran did not stop her fundraising and advocacy. Neither did the rest of the Seaside walk committee. With help from Jim DeAngelis of the Lakewood BlueClaws, the walk moved to the ballpark in Lakewood, New Jersey in 2013. The Roughriders continued their efforts and were glad to do their part.
Still, the memories of the beach remained. Fran saw the walk as a chance to not just raise money for the ALS cause, but to tell the world about the disease. The Lakewood BlueClaws were tremendous hosts for years, but the Boardwalk was calling. Walking along the beach was a unique opportunity to connect with passersby about ALS and recruit others to join the effort.
“I remember one year at the Seaside Walk to Defeat ALS when we walked along the boardwalk and a young man asked what we were doing with everyone wearing team shirts,” remembered Fran. “I told him about my husband and the walk and he donated $20 in cash right there. It is a moment that we’ll never forget. Later, I donated $20 to a team who was walking for a 19 year old who had been diagnosed with ALS and every year, I find another team to donate an extra amount to and it all stems from a kind stranger on the boardwalk.”
Fran, the Roughriders, and so many others who had been in those early walks are excited to return to Seaside this year. She looks forward to seeing the joy on the faces of young people at the beach, reconnecting with returning teams, and seeing old friends.
Even when the walk moved to Lakewood, Fran made a personal effort to make sure that nobody had to walk alone. When a new patient would come to the walk, curious about the event, she would welcome them into her team. On walk day, everybody is family.
Now, at the beach, everyone in that family is there to enjoy themselves and relax. It’s a chance to at once focus on fighting ALS and to take a day and forget about the disease, if just for an afternoon once the walk is done.
No storm could stop the Roughriders. The storm didn’t stop them from walking year after year, they just found a new home for some time. The storm didn’t stop the Roughriders hockey jersey auction either, which has raised over $55,000 over the last decade for the team. The storm certainly didn’t stop the Carlson’s drive to help others.
On Saturday, May 6, Fran Carlson, the Roughriders, and teams from throughout the area are going back to the shore for the Seaside Walk to Defeat ALS. It is a homecoming. Join them, they can’t wait to welcome you.