Christopher Pendergast, New York Instructor Behind ALS Trip For Life, Dies From Sickness At 71 – CBS New York

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MILLER PLACE, NY (AP) – Christopher Pendergast, a suburban teacher in New York who turned a dreaded Lou Gehrig disease diagnosis into a decade-long campaign to raise awareness and fund research, died Wednesday of the disease. He was 71 years old.

Pendergast was the driving force behind the ALS Ride for Life, an annual wheelchair ride across Long Island that raised more than $ 10 million for research, patient and care services, and education about the neurodegenerative disease formerly known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Has.

Pendergast’s family confirmed his death. He had been in home hospice care for several days and was surrounded by loved ones in his final moments. The disease required his ability to speak about a year ago, but his mind remained sharp and he communicated through a gaze computer.

“Our father lived life the way he wanted, despite all odds,” the family said in a statement.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 8: (LR) Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast attend the 17th Annual Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit at the New York Marriott Marquis on November 8, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman / WireImage)

News of Pendergast’s death quickly spread across social media, sparking honors and memories among former students, colleagues, and people touched by his efforts. A funeral mass will be celebrated on Monday in his hometown of Miller Place. It is also streamed online.

“He’s a hero to all of us,” said Ray Manzoni, a friend who chairs the ALS Ride for Life organization.

“Mr. P only had a hunch that he would fight this to the end,” said Don Strasser, a chemistry teacher in Northport, where Pendergast taught elementary school and remained a staple in ALS fundraisers and class activities Giving people hope … He has done that over and over again for so many patients. “

Pendergast led the first ALS Ride for Life in 1998, five years after his diagnosis. It was an ambitious 15-day trip to Washington, DC, beginning at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where baseball legend Lou Gehrig described himself as “the happiest man on earth” after his own diagnosis of ALS in 1939.

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In the following years, the route moved closer to home. Pendergast led a small group of ALS patients in his motorized wheelchair from Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island to New York City, about 118 miles away. The two-week hike every spring found immense support in the community. The local police provided escorts, people rode bicycles or walked, and sometimes spectators would come out onto the street to give change.

The money raised from the ride has funded a variety of ALS-related programs, including the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. The center, which opened more than a decade ago at Stony Brook University in Long Island, offers a range of diagnostic and treatment services previously only available in New York City.

Pendergast and his wife Christine have recorded their experiences as a patient, carer and lawyer in a recently published book entitled “Blink Spoken Here: Stories from a Journey Inside”.

Pendergast, who retired from class in 2003, returned frequently to schools to deliver an inspiring message of perseverance in the face of adversity. He most recently visited Northport High School students in February, just before coronavirus forced schools and businesses to close and events, including the May edition of Ride for Life.

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From the beginning, Pendergast saw his diagnosis as a calling to help others. When ALS lost his ability to walk in 1997, he marched outside the offices of the Food and Drug Administration in Washington and pushed for approval of an unproven but potentially beneficial therapy.

“One day I’ll be chained to this door,” Pendergast told The Associated Press at the time. “It’s the politics of power and we’ve been powerless for too long.”

In 2005, after another Northport teacher revealed his diagnosis of ALS, students were inspired to start their own fundraiser, an annual gala called Midwinter Night’s Dream. The event, which was started by one of the primary school students in Pendergast, attracted prominent guests such as the star “The Sopranos”, Edie Falco, and the pitcher David Cone.

Pendergast provided advice from students from his own charitable experiences and was a celebrated guest at this year’s gala. However, Strasser said he was also careful not to put the spotlight on David Deutsch, the other Northport teacher fighting ALS. Deutsch died in 2012 and the last gala took place in 2014.

“There is no doubt that actively participating in the fight against the disease in this form is life-extending,” said Pendergast at the first event. “We cannot undergo chemotherapy or invasive surgery to fight back against the disease. So we have the choice to lie down and do nothing and allow the disease to roll right over us or defend ourselves with the ghost and join in … This is our only medicine. “

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