When Soojeong Choe’s grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s disease on 2011, Choe found it difficult to speak to anyone about his loss—he remained silent for a month. The first time Choe began to speak about his experience losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s was at his high school’s Alzheimer’s club, a club which he founded.
Since that time, Choe has discovered that remaining silent about Alzheimer’s is not an option. In an effort to raise awareness and research funds for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, Choe initiated fundraisers at York Mill Collegiate’s Alzheimer’ club—the club raised over $1,200 for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto while Choe was involved. Last summer, Choe raised 1,400 pounds for the UK Alzheimer Society by biking from London to Paris.
“When I was biking from London to Paris, I was thinking about my grandfather 100 per cent,” Choe said. “He was my childhood friend. I miss him a lot.”
Now, Choe has a greater mission in mind: he plans to bike 5,000 km from Toronto to Vancouver to raise both funds and awareness for the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
“I would say that 95 per cent of people have never witnessed a nursing home before. It’s sad that most of society don’t know how bad Alzheimer’s disease is,” Choe says of the public’s lack of knowledge of Alzheimer’s severity.
Laura Berljawsky, marketing and communications coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Canada, adds it’s in everyone’s best interest to become more aware of Alzheimer’s risk factors and warning signs—especially because of Alzheimer’s increasing prevalence.
“Without a cure in sight, eventually each of us will be affected through diagnosis or caring for family or friends with the disease,” Berljawsky says.
Choe specifically tries to educate young adults about Alzheimer’s disease by running awareness campaigns at high schools alongside members of the Alzheimer Bike Campaign.
Recently, however, his chief focus has been on preparing for the grueling road ahead by acquiring money for his trip, publicity for his mission and endurance for long days on a bike.
To spread word of his bicycle campaign on campus, Choe created a video of him biking on a spin bike for eight hours, covering 160 km at a speed of 20 km/hour. The video received 30,000 views on Facebook, hundreds of shares and heartfelt feedback from individuals who had lost family to Alzheimer’s pledging to support Choe with his goal.
Choe has already received $2500 —chiefly from friends and acquaintances — but he predicts that the trip will cost at least $4000. The money will go towards motels and gas expense, as he plans for someone to accompany him with a car packed with supplies. To finance his trip further, Choe is partnered with Arbonne and Atomic, two skin care product companies, and Nutrilite, a dietary supplement company which will provide Choe with protein bars and vitamins. Choe will advertise for these companies; any profits the companies make as a result will go towards funding his campaign.
In the mean time, Choe has been focused on improving his strength and cardiac fitness. As part of his training, Choe attends spin classes three to four times a week. He is currently an apprentice spin instructor at the Western Student Recreation Centre.
“I’ve never been this fit. But I’m no professional biker—I’m a recreational biker” he says, acknowledging that his upcoming trip will still be a physical challenge.
Yet Choe passionately believes that the challenge will pay off. He gives the example of two Western students, Taylor Scholz and Willy Konantz, who made a similar trip last year to raise funds for prostate cancer and raised $250,000.
“They said to really try to get the word out and have close connections to the organization you are raising funds for,” Choe says of advice he gleaned from speaking to Scholz and Konantz.
Choe’s own goal is to raise $20,000 for the Alzheimer Society of Canada. While he acknowledges obstacles to achieving this goal— finding a driver to accompany him, getting more companies to become invested in the project—he remains hopeful that he will see his goal come to fruition.
“I’m just hoping to try and make a difference,” he says.
“Students today care about issues like health care. They can make a difference,” adds Berljawsky. “We think Soojeong is a great role model for other students.”