An avid skier, cyclist, and hiker, Father Jim has been a pastor at St. Michael’s Parish in Olympia, Washington for over twenty years. With members of the church community, he has traveled to numerous countries for both missionary work and recreational trips. A few years ago, he began having difficulties with muscle twitches, upper body weakness, and leg cramps. Before long he was diagnosed with ALS.
“When I was first diagnosed with ALS in November 2017, I was quite overwhelmed. I knew little or nothing about ALS,” Father Jim said. “When I went to The ALS Association website, I was both shaken with fear and encouraged by the work that had already been done.” As he sat alone at his favorite pub eating a Rueben sandwich and drinking a beer, he realized he could not do this on his own. “Not only would I need my closest priest friends, I would also need a group of people around me who loved me and would help me through this. I thought my journey would progress quickly, so I wasted no time in asking people to help,” he said.
An eleven-member support team soon came together to accompany Father Jim to appointments, help with meals and provide emotional support. He has lost the use of his arms and his neck is getting weaker, so the team now assists him with putting on and taking off his neck braces, shirts, and jackets. “They are kind and gracious and never seem to tire of me asking for help, which is not always easy for me to do.” They also step away from these busy tasks for a while, gathering monthly to relax, enjoying dinner and conversation.
In addition, the entire parish has been busy fundraising for the Association’s Evergreen Chapter in support of Father Jim. Their first appearance was the 2018 Tacoma Walk to Defeat ALS®. As Team Saint Michael the Archangel, they have participated in four walk events with teams averaging 100 participants each year. They’ve also taken on the challenge of the chapter’s Ride to Defeat ALS. “It is incredible to be a part of the ALS walk, supporting Father Jim and all those living with ALS. The community here is so generous of both their time and resources and I'm grateful to be able to be a part of it,” says Mona Bishop, administrative assistant for Time, Talent & Treasure at St. Michael’s Parish.
Father Jim’s supporters continue to find unique ways to support the ALS community and have raised over $81,000 for the Chapter in their first four years. Last year, St. Michael Parish School (K-8) raised over $12,000 by hosting other creative events, including a Zumbathon. Reflecting on her Walk to Defeat ALS® experience, second grade teacher, Sandra Quebedeaux, says, “Father Jim has been so supportive of the school, it is only right to support him on his journey with ALS. I will always remember the first ALS walk that we did and how he had everyone wait so we could cross the finish line together. What a powerful statement that we are all in this together with him!”
When a community gets involved with people impacted by ALS, benefits can be seen from both perspectives. Benedetta Reece, member of Father Jim’s support team, says “It brought me to realize that it is not me supporting him, it is the other way around! His ALS is our ALS, his diagnosis is our diagnosis. We are on this path together and for this I am grateful.”
Five years later, Father Jim reflects on the slow progression of his disease saying, “my support group have become some of my closest friends. Having a support team of people who love you and care for you is not just for people with ALS and their caregivers. It is essential for a life of meaning and purpose. It is my prayer that you may be as blessed as I have been with my support team."
Special thanks to Father Jim for allowing us to share his inspiring story with the ALS community.
To find a Walk to Defeat ALS® event near you this fall, visit walktodefeatals.org TODAY!
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