Go. Fight. Run.

Andrea Lytle Peet – Look up from what you’re reading. Right now. See the people around you? They could be your lifelong friends – even if you haven’t met them yet.

Is this just an alumna musing nostalgically about her time at Davidson (gulp) 14+ years ago? Yep. But “lifelong” is meant literally, a claim I can make because I was told I only had 2-5 years to live. Three years ago.

I was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) in May 2014 at the age of 33. It was eight months after I did my first half Ironman triathlon, which, not coincidentally, took place at Davidson. I swam 1.2 miles at the Lake Campus, biked 56 miles around hillier- than-I-remembered rural Iredell County, then ran 13.1 miles on the Davidson greenway and the cross-country trails. Being a bookworm/ band geek most of my life, I was incredibly proud of this athletic feat, even though at 7.5 hours, my time was slow compared to most competitors.

Actually, I’d been slowing down all summer in training for that race. My hamstrings had felt tight and I had to concentrate awfully hard on running to keep from falling. Two months later, convinced I had a race injury, I saw a physical therapist, who said “Your muscles just don’t seem strong enough for someone who did that long of a race.” She recommended a neurologist.

Fast-forward eight months to my diagnosis. By then, I was walking with a cane after I had fallen in the middle of a downtown D.C. intersection. My voice had slowed down too, and I couldn’t clap normally. What was going on?

ALS is a progressive neurological condition that inhibits the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles. People with ALS become increasingly paralyzed as they can no longer move their muscles to walk, speak, eat, or eventually, breathe. In that time, the person’s mind stays sharp, watching his or her body die.

ALS is a “rare” disease in that there are only 30,000 people living with it in the U.S. at any one time. But that’s because we die out so quick. The better statistic to remember is that every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS and someone else dies.

Thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge, there’s more money in research but it’s difficult to make progress in such a highly variable disease (Pre-med students, we need you!).

That’s why I have dedicated my remaining time left to raising money for ALS research. I did my “last” sprint triathlon in October 2014 and asked friends and family to support me with donations. I finished in last, slower than my nearest competitor by an hour, but I was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers who stayed to cheer me on. I was also blown away that we raised $10,000 in a week.

Then I had an even crazier idea: what if I encouraged my friends to take on a race that represented a challenge to them and tap their networks for donations? Then they could experience the race highs I’d felt and appreciate what their healthy bodies can do.

Team Drea started out as thirty friends with a modest goal of $7,500. By the end of 2016, we had grown to 150 athletes and raised $150,000 for ALS research. And I thought I was overwhelmed by kindness before…

Almost 100 Davidson alumni have joined Team Drea. This, by far, has been the best part of the experience: reconnecting and taking the time to deepen friendships (trust me, it’s not so easy when you’re scattered across the country and internationally, instead of just across campus).

Some of them are even coming to Davidson on May 6th to participate with me in the Spartan Half Marathon & 5k on the greenway as part of the Town Day celebration. We would love to have some Davidson students join us. All we’re asking is that you donate or fundraise $50. We’re hosting a brunch afterwards in the Summit Outpost (good place to meet alumni, just sayin’). Find more info on Team Drea Foundation on Facebook or teamdrea. org.

And yes, I did say “participate with me.” Turns out I have been blessed by slow progression and am still able to pedal my recumbent trike, even though I now use a walker. I have done four marathons, four triathlons, and seven half marathons since my diagnosis. Last year, I completed twelve races and dedicated each one to a person with ALS who has inspired me. They have taught me that it is never too late to make a positive difference in the world, or in the life of someone else. You can read about the honorees and follow my journey at teamdrea.org.

Hope to see you on May 6th!

Andrea Lytle Peet ’03 majored in Political Science and came to Davidson from Raleigh, North Carolina. She has now returned to Raleigh and is a former city planner turned ALS activist.