“When I was first diagnosed, I was really in denial,” Colyer said. “I knew the disease was terminal and it could take as quick as 18 months to kill you.”
Then, Colyer found the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“They have been instrumental along with the ALS Foundation just helping me navigate through this disease,” he said.
A few miles away in Victorian Square, a group of Sparks Firefighters sat beneath a canopy, surrounded by the smell of ribs and a chorus of happy chatter. They were raising money to help people like Colyer.
“People are very gracious,” said Sparks firefighter Jarrod Stewart, one of the many firefighters who are raising money this weekend at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off for the MDA.
The firefighters will be at the Cook-Off today and Sunday beneath a fire truck waving an American flag from its ladder.
“It is all volunteer,” Stewart said. “No one is getting paid. … In fact, one guy (firefighter) had his appendix out (Wednesday) and says he is coming today.”
The firefighters have been raising money at the Rib Cook-Off for more than 10 years and partnering with the MDA for more than 50 years. Colyer has been associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association since he started showing symptoms in 2005.
“They (representatives from the MDA) asked me if I wanted to come to a support group meeting,” Colyer recalled of his first months struggling with the disease. “I wasn’t really interested. I was in denial and I guess I wanted to do it on my own. But, one support group meeting and it really changed my life.”
Since that time, the 20-year northern Nevada resident has worked with the association to find resources, garner emotional support and try to find a wheelchair-accessible car.
“If they didn’t have the fundraising they wouldn’t have the personnel who go around to different doctors’ offices and provide the knowledge and experience. … They wouldn’t have the resources to treat and make this easier for people with the disease to manage,” Colyer said.
Colyer, who worked in retail for many years, has not had a job since his disease struck. His wife, Jeanette, suffers from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis, which also prevents her from working.
According to the ALS Association, more than 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, meaning 15 new cases per day. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.
The disease is one of the 42 ailments that the MDA is trying to cure through research and resources.
The firefighters’ fundraising coincides with the association’s annual telethon. Last year, the telethon raised more than $65 million. The Sparks Fire Department and donations from the Rib Cook-Off contributed more than $28,000 to this total, according to Stewart.
“I never donated to the MDA before,” Colyer said. “I lived a perfectly healthy life for 40 years and here it is. It could happen to anybody. I never in my wildest imagination could have believed that something could have happened to me. It doesn’t have a face until it happens to someone one you love.”
The firefighters are also giving out T-shirts in exchange for at least a $10 contribution. Stewart said they nearing the end of their 250 shirts and are in the process of getting more.
The firefighters will also be asking for donations in the Raley’s parking lot on Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard.
Firefighters will stop taking donations Sunday night, since contributions are due to MDA by Monday.