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Bikers ride through Alexandria on 700 mile trek to fight Huntington's disease

Charlotte Reichs, Marie Nemec and Gary Heiman are all older than 65 but that didn't stop them from riding their bicycles 700 miles in an effort to raise awareness about Huntington's disease - a disorder passed on through families that causes certain brain cells to waste away or degenerate. Nationwide, about 30,000 people have the disease.

For Marie Nemec, 67, Charlotte Reich, 75, and Gary Heiman, 72, age is not a factor when helping the fight against Huntington's disease (HD).

These bikers have overcome flat tires, bad weather, and hilly terrain for their cause.

They rolled into Alexandria on June 20, spent the night at Lake Community Church and hit the road again the following day.


"Plains to Lakes" is a 700-mile bike ride to raise awareness and funds for Huntington's disease, an inherited degenerative brain disease that affects one in every 10,000 Americans. Presently there is no cure.

The bike ride started on June 12 in Belle Fourche, South Dakota and finished on June 23 in Minneapolis where the Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA) national convention was held.


After learning about HD, Marie Nemec attended the 13th annual HDSA National Convention in Denver, Colorado. There, she met people who were directly affected with HD.

"When I was talking to these people, I felt badly. I wanted to help them," she said.

She decided to help them through biking.

Nemec and Charlotte Reichs met through a mutual friend and planned a bike route across America to raise awareness and funds for HD.

They took their first coast-to-coast ride in 1999, their destination: the HDSA national convention.

The two bikers were able to finish the 3,000-mile route in two months.

For 13 years Nemec and Reichs have faithfully biked to the NDSA national convention, which takes place in a different city every year.

Through Nemec and Reichs' efforts, 20,000 miles have been pedaled through parts of 42 states. They have raised more than $520,000, and are hoping to raise another $12,000 during this ride.



Nemec and Reichs, both from Colorado, have been riding together and attending NDSA since 1999.

Gary Heiman, an experienced biker who logs 2,000 miles a year in West Central Ohio, joined them this year.

At first Heiman was hesitant about joining when his wife volunteered him. But so far he has been strong and resilient throughout the journey.

Reichs started cross-country biking in 1992 when she was 50. Her first ride was across Colorado. After she finished the ride she realized, "I can bicycle anywhere."

Overall, she does not train very much. "We train on the job," Reichs joked.

Nemec started training again in March after overcoming a knee injury and foot surgery earlier this year.

Though this is the team's shortest ride - two weeks - Nemec and Reichs take turns driving the van and biking.

"I'm not permitted in the van," Heiman mumbled.

"We haven't even given him a key!" Reichs chuckled. But for good reason - when Heiman's church choir heard of his bike ride, a member promised that for every additional mile over 400 miles that Heiman biked he would pay 25 cents more then he pledged. Another member then said she would match that.

Between biking from town to town, the trio stays at local churches that provide them with food, beds, and showers.

"The best thing is that we are supported by the churches. Every church is so generous, we would not be able to do it without them," Reichs noted.


Over the course of this 700 mile ride, Heiman, Reichs and Nemec have met numerous families and individuals affected by HD.

"At the start of our journey, on the Wyoming boarder, we stayed in assisted living - usually we stayed in churches, so this was a little different," Reichs noted. "Later, we learned there was a gal in the assisted living that had Huntington's."

When the trio road into a particular town on their route, an entourage of two vans and three bikers - families of HD victims - began following them. Minutes later, a white van with blinking lights veered up alongside of them.

The woman in the white van had heard of the bikers' arrival in an article and came to ask them to visit her husband, an HD victim.

In Wahpeton, North Dakota they also met four other families directly affected by Huntington's.

"We get to know who we are biking for personally," Reichs noted. All three agreed that their favorite part of the ride is the people.

Heiman continued by personifying some of the people they've met.

After he received a menu and found a booth at a local Arby's in Ashby, he handed the waitress a "Plains to Lakes" brochure. She glanced at it and walked away without saying a word.

Later, the waitress put down the check, but minutes later picked it back up - unpaid - and filled Heiman's coffee cup. When Heiman asked the waitress why she did not let him pay, he was informed that after the cook/owner of the Arby's had read his brochure he was so swept with emotion that he paid Heiman's bill and donated to his cause.

This same act of generosity occurred later when Heiman was buying coffee at a local coffee house. When the worker found out that Heiman was on a bike ride for HD, he gave Heiman an extra cup of coffee and $20.


To learn more about this ride or make a donation, visit the website or bikeforcure. Donations will go toward improving the victims' lives, fund services for families directly affected by HD, research programs, and education.