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HAMMOND — Rick Suarez plans to mark an item off his bucket list this year.

"I decided at 62 to run my first marathon," he said. "Not the smartest thing to do. My knees are feeling it."

When he went to register for the Chicago Marathon, he realized he'd missed the deadline — unless he raised money for charity.

He quickly collected the $1,500 required to enter the race. But he wanted to go further. The cause is that important to him.

Suarez, a retired Hammond firefighter and the owner of Calumet Painting, aims to raise $20,000 for the Alzheimer's Association. His mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease five years ago.

Raquel "Quele" Suarez raised six kids before going to work in the Horseshoe Casino gift shop upon the death of her husband in 1990. She has so many grandchildren Rick couldn't count them all during a recent interview.

Last year, her health deteriorated to the point her family decided to place her in a Valparaiso nursing home so she could receive around-the-clock care.

"There's really no stopping it," Rick said of the disease. "It gets worse and worse. They get combative. It gets to where they can't be by themselves anymore."

Rick said he spends so much time with his 87-year-old mom that she still remembers him. That isn't true of everyone from her past. He said she has hardly any short-term memory but still recalls events from her childhood in Texas.

"It's difficult because you see it progressing and you feel kind of helpless. There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "It's your mom, but a lot of her is gone — her memories. It's a terrible disease."

Rick hopes the money he raises can go toward finding a medication that can cure or at least halt the progression of Alzheimer's.

"It takes a lot of money and resources to get to that point," he said. "Twenty-thousand dollars is a lot of money, but in the end it's probably a drop in the bucket."

In the meantime, he's getting ready for the race. He runs four times a week, including double-digit-mile treks every Saturday with the Chicago Area Runners Association, the group he's training with. His previous long competition was a half-marathon.

He plans to run the entire race Oct. 8, only stopping to use the washroom or fix his equipment. He hopes to finish in about 4 1/2 hours.

"It makes you kind of tired thinking about it," he said. "People say they don't like driving 26 miles, let alone running it."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.