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Woidyla honored for rallying others to fight Alzheimer's

Anna Woidyla of Osakis (left), along with her mother, Nancy, and several other family members, participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Big Ole Central Park in Alexandria Saturday evening. Anna held a purple flower in honor of her grandmother who died from Alzheimer’s in early 2017. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)1 / 6
Anna Woidyla (right) smiles for a photo with her grandmother, Doris Curtis. Woidyla participated in Saturday's Alzhiemer's Walk after Curtis passed away in January 2017. (Contributed)2 / 6
Despite cool temperatures Saturday evening, about 200 people participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Big Ole Central Park in Alexandria. This is the first year the event has been held in Alexandria and more than $40,000 was raised for Alzheimer’s research, care and support. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)3 / 6
Participants in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s hold different-colored flower pinwheels to represent their connection to the disease. Purple flowers were for those who had lost someone to the disease, blue flowers for those living with someone with Alzheimer’s, yellow for caregivers and orange for support of a world without Alzheimer’s. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)4 / 6
Anna Woidyla speaks to a crowd of people about her connection to Alzheimer’s before the walk Saturday evening. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)5 / 6
Participants in the first Walk to End Alzheimer’s to be held in Alexandria raised more than $40,000 for Alzheimer’s research, care and support. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)6 / 6

Anna Woidyla has turned a painful time into a cause to fight for.

"I love doing it. I'm turning my personal experience into my passion," the 15-year-old said of raising awareness for dementia.

"It's inspired me to keep going. People are seeing my dedication to it, and they're getting involved and getting motivated through that. That's why I started doing it, and it's what's keeping me going."

On Jan. 9, 2017, she lost her grandmother, Doris Curtis, to dementia. Since then, Woidyla has worked to raise awareness and motivate others to get involved.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. By 2050, the number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million people.

The latest step in Woidyla's fight was Saturday's Alexandria Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer's at Big Ole Central Park in Alexandria, where she and members of her family took part in the fight.

Rallying the family

"The Alzheimer's disease has been affecting our family for years," Anna's mother, Nancy, said of their numerous family members who have faced challenges because of the disease. She is thankful that her daughter has gotten the whole family involved. "She's advocating for us, saying, 'This really is affecting us. We need to do something.'"

Woidyla's work began long before the walk. This summer, she finished a run where she won first place at the regional, state and national levels for a project of essays called "Defeat Dementia" through Osakis FCCLA.

"I talked about how being informed, motivated and involved can change our future and the future of Alzheimer's," Woidyla said. "Doing those steps, it really changes the future."

She has led by example in her call for action. Her efforts also ended with her family being selected as the honorary family for Saturday's walk.

"We got picked because of Anna's project and her young age, and how much she got involved in the advocacy," Nancy said. "One of my mom's comments to us all the time was, 'I wish I had a new brain. I need to fix my brain.' That always stuck in Anna's mind.

"I said, 'Well, mom, we can't do that.' But I never (stopped) to think there are other things we can do. We need to work on it for the rest of us."

Goal is white flower

Saturday's walk also featured a Flower Garden, and the Woidylas took a purple flower because they have lost someone to Alzheimer's. There were different colors, as well, but the ultimate goal remains a white flower — the first survivor of Alzheimer's disease.

"That's what we're striving for," Nancy said.

The road is more of a journey than a walk, but Saturday's event marked another important step in finding a cure. For Woidyla, the work has been a worthwhile — and necessary — investment.

"It's an incredible experience," she said. "I never imagined our family being so involved."

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Echo Press in Alexandria. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Alexandria area sports updates and jokes he thinks are funny.

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