Alumnus Jason Lynch ’11 recently scaled Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast, three times in a 16 hour period in support of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Longest Day. After completing his triple climb, Lynch realized he had learned an unexpected lesson, which he shares in the following reflection:
On The Longest Day, I faced some pretty daunting numbers. There were the 16 consecutive hours I hiked. The 26.4 miles I trekked. The 12,750 feet of elevation I climbed…and then had to descend. There were also the 4,000+ calories I consumed and the 300+ ounces of Gatorade I drank. And let’s not forget the $2,500 I promised to raise for the Alzheimer’s cause.
Yes, I was dealing with some rather large numbers on The Longest Day – numbers that seemed a little extreme to anyone who heard them. But, in the end, a very small number proved to be the biggest of all. The number 3.
There were three families I honored with my triple-climb of Mount Washington, each impacted harshly by Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy Body Dementia. And, in a way that really amazed me, those three families made all the other numbers pale in comparison. They turned the Northeast’s tallest mountain into a molehill.
One climb for the Humes. One climb for the Murphys. One climb for the Fitzgeralds. Each family has inspired me far beyond my daily work at the Alzheimer's Association. In a very profound way, these families embody strength through adversity and courage in the face of loss.
In their honor, I sought to make my Mount Washington challenge especially difficult – perhaps even too difficult to complete. From my understanding, that was the whole point of The Longest Day.
Individuals were asked to partake in a sunrise-to-sunset activity that would honor those who face Alzheimer’s with strength, endurance, and passion. My hike was designed to test those very qualities in myself. Would I have the strength to conquer such an exhausting challenge? The endurance to push my body beyond its limits? The passion to continue when I wanted to quit? I wanted to face the questions of the caregiver.
During the hike, I kept waiting for the sheer exhaustion to set in. I was sure that the fatigue would paralyze me at some point. It was only a matter of time before I “hit the wall” and struggled to take another step. But, to my disbelief, that point never came.
For all 16 hours, my determination remained unbroken. For all 26.4 miles, I hiked with an intensity I’ve very rarely experienced. For all 12,750 feet, I was driven by love.In fact, I was so driven by love that my third climb of Mount Washington was my fastest of the day. And my final quarter-mile ended with a euphoric sprint to the parking lot. On The Longest Day, I simply never got tired. When I finished, I felt like I could have gone back and hiked the mountain another 3 times.
I didn’t understand why I was so unfazed by the hike…but it made me feel very guilty. I was supposed to be honoring those impacted by Alzheimer’s by suffering through a grueling challenge. I was supposed to struggle. I was supposed to face the questions of the caregiver. After my hike, I felt that I didn’t achieve any of these objectives.
However, now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I have a different perspective: I didn’t come up short on The Longest Day – I merely overlooked a crucial component of caregiving.
As I learned, caregiving is not just about overcoming a challenge and refusing to quit. It’s much, much more than that. The beauty of caregiving lies in the strength that’s gained from the relationship. Every day is The Longest Day for caregivers…and yet they persevere. They are driven by love. They are strengthened and empowered by it. It’s what allows them to do much more than they thought they were capable.
In the same way, my hike became far less daunting when I dedicated it to the Humes, the Murphys, and the Fitzgeralds. By imbuing the hike with love and loyalty, I took away the “if” in the challenge. I was going to complete the climbs no matter what – because the love far outweighed the struggle. I expect that Alzheimer’s elicits this very response in caregivers.
I also expect that that’s what Mark Shriver was getting at when he spoke at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Hope on the Harbor event this past month. Shriver remarked that he hated the word “caregiver” because it diminishes the relationship and sterilizes the act of caregiving. As Shriver suggested, a much more accurate term is “lovegiver.”
On The Longest Day, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to be a “lovegiver.” And I found that even the biggest numbers and the tallest mountains can be dwarfed by a person driven by love.
Lynch began working as a Development Associate at the Alzheimer’s Association this past February. Held on the Summer Solstice, The Longest Day is a sunrise-to-sunset event honoring the strength, passion and endurance of those facing Alzheimer’s disease. For more on Alzheimer's disease, visit here.