Who I am and why I ride

By Tommy Sullivan

Hello, you might recognize me from my bio, but I want to give you a little more about myself.

I love reading—especially about current events. My goal is to work in government, politics, or anything else in the public sector. I’ve been studying Spanish for a few years and studied for a semester in Argentina. Hopefully, my future career will involve Latin America somehow.

As much as I’m focusing on preparing myself for a career, my relationships are always a priority. I stay up well past midnight almost weekly because I can never pull myself from deep conversations with close friends.

I don’t really use social media, which is ironic because social media is one of my jobs for Bike4Alz. I also don’t really watch TV, which is also ironic because one of my other jobs is to be in touch with TV stations.

With Bike4Alz, each team member has “jobs,” but all of us have to do 100 other things outside of that job. While I’m focusing on public relations, I’m also a driver who will support the riders and make sure they are safe. I’ll contact newspapers and local governments while I’m making the riders sandwiches and assisting them in other ways.

This blog is one thing I’m doing for the ride. It will start out with infrequent and sporadic posts—just a few collections of thoughts and feelings and anything else. Once we get going from city to city, it will become more of a travel log and a report of our Bike4Alz experience.

That’s enough about who I am, what I do, and what this blog is about. The rest of this post is dedicated to why I’m doing this thing.

 Nana and me. Thanks to my mom for this photo!

Nana and me. Thanks to my mom for this photo!

In a lot of ways, this summer sounds terrible: waking up before 7:00 every day (as a guy who schedules as many classes after 10:00 as possible), sleeping in a different place every night (many times on couches and the ground), and trying to support five exhausted guys who are going the summer without their girlfriends. But the sacrifices seem small faced with the enormity of the task at hand. I want to end Alz.

My grandmother had dementia. That basically means Nana progressively knew less and less. First, she didn’t know where items were around the house. Then, she didn’t know where she was. Later, she didn’t know who I was.

I think that reality was especially hard, because Nana knew so much. As a teacher, she shared a lot of that knowledge with the children in her classroom. She shared a lot of knowledge with me, too. And she gave me books all the time.

She was also always in control. My dad always said she could get the whole family’s attention with a single snap. So, watching her lose control at the end of her life was particularly hard.

I talked to my aunt about Nana the other day. My grandma’s dementia affected my aunt profoundly over Thanksgiving one year. It started when Nana called my aunt the wrong name.

“She literally had no idea who I was,” my aunt said. “For your mother to look at you and literally have no idea who you are… There’s just this oddest feeling.”

Nana’s death was the first one I got to see up close. By middle school, I had distant relatives and friends die, but no one like that. To me, her mental decline felt normal. I equated aging with memory loss, confusion, and the other effects of dementia.

A few years later, my great grandparents died. They also suffered from dementia. Once again, I had no idea that someone’s mental capacity could be maintained to the grave. It hadn’t happened in any case I had seen.

“For your mother to look at you and literally have no idea who you are… There’s just this oddest feeling.”

Because I was so young, there was little I could do for Nana and my great grandparents. Honestly, there was little I wanted to do with them, since I didn’t appreciate or understand them when I was that age. I visited them in the nursing home and all that, but I walked away from their caskets with regret—I felt like I should have done more to know them or help them. And that’s a feeling I carry with me and will stay with me as I cross the country this summer.

My grandpa visited Nana every day to feed her lunch. Every single day. That’s a sacrifice I’ve never come close to making. I want this summer to make a difference for someone else’s grandma. That’s why I ride.