Man on 2,000-mile Journey to Raise Awareness of ALS

River Eases Pain Of Wife's Death

Associated Press River Eases Pain of Wife's Death

Eighty-year-old Ted Dowdell wanted to raise awareness for the disease that took his bride.

With a 16-foot catamaran and little shelter and supplies, he has embarked on a 3-month trip aimed at navigating 2,000 miles of rivers from West Virginia to New Orleans.

Dowdell's answer to why he's doing it is simple.
"Because I can't forget my wife's last moments," he said.

Dowdell, of Elyria, Ohio, and family friend Greg Emmons, of Santa Fe, N.M., are hoping to bring more attention to finding a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease.

The trip began Aug. 17, five years to the day after the death of Bonnie Dowdell from the disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. ALS causes the gradual deterioration of nerve cells that control muscle movement, resulting eventually in paralysis and death. Its cause is unknown and there currently is no cure.

ALS, which afflicts about 30,000 Americans, attracted worldwide attention when Gehrig, the New York Yankees' first baseman, announced that he had the disease in 1939, two years before his death.

Dowdell and Emmons started their trip along the Monongahela River in Fairmont, W.Va., and traveled 128 miles to the headwaters of the Ohio River at Pittsburgh. They moved their craft, equipped with pedal-powered paddlewheels, by foot or by sail.

They are navigating the Ohio's 20 locks and dams, along with waves created by towboats and barges. On Friday they reached Williamstown, across the river from Marietta, Ohio. Their journey includes stops in Ashland (Sept. 18), Louisville (Oct. 6), Owensboro (Oct. 15) and several other Kentucky cities.

After arriving in Cairo, Ill., late next month, they'll head down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The trip is scheduled to finish on Dec. 1 in Slidell, La., on Lake Ponchartrain.

(The complete schedule, plus other information, is available on the Internet at

Although both men have experience on rivers and canals, this is their first trip in a nonpowered craft.

Headwinds have often forced them to abandon using the small sail, but the trip has gone according to plan otherwise, and they've actually made it to some locations ahead of schedule.

"We just sit and pedal," Dowdell told The Marietta (Ohio) Times. "Sometimes we don't even talk for an hour or so. You go along with just your thoughts."

Thoughts of Bonnie, of their 52-year marriage, of her final suffering.

"Mom did suffer a lot," his daughter, Kathy Dowdell of Colorado Springs, Colo., told The Associated Press on Friday. "He took care of Mom day and night and it was impressive. Anybody who saw it was awed by his dedication."

Dowdell sleeps every night on the catamaran; Emmons, 56, spends some nights at hotels with his wife, Arlene. Emmons also files daily updates on the Web site.

"Dad probably thinks people's expectations are that he's roughing it," Kathy Dowdell said. "Therefore he's going to rough it. That's just kind of the way he is.


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