Alzheimer

Burlingame dad honors father and scales Six-Pack of Peaks for The Longest Day® | Alzheimers and Dementia Blog

Written by Sharon Rohwer

When the pandemic hit, Jason Scalese canceled his gym membership and took to hiking the hills near his Bay Area home. As a dad, Jason likes to hike with his young children, however he took on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge™ as a way to honor his father who is living with Alzheimer’s. Jason shares how he turned his passion into a fundraiser to support The Longest Day.®

Jason and Anthony

A lifelong car salesman
Anthony Scalese, Jason’s dad, was a lifelong car salesman. “Dad was a general manager in a car dealership in Cape Cod,” shared Jason. “Back when there was an art to selling cars. We weren’t a rich family, but we did fine, and we had an outstanding father who taught us to work hard at a young age.

“Dad was always a big, happy guy, in good times and bad. Even now, he’s always smiling.”

Warning signs
In 1998 Jason moved to California, because of this he didn’t see the first signs of Alzheimer’s. His mother and sister, who still lived on the East Coast, were there to witness the progression of his father’s disease. Warning signs – confusion and forgetfulness – first appeared in 2008 when Anthony was only 60-years old.

Anthony was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014.

Anthony who is living with Alzheimer's surprises his son Jason on his birthday
Anthony surprises Jason for his birthday 2005

Living through COVID
Two years ago, Jason’s family moved Anthony into a care facility 10 miles from where Jason’s mother and sister currently live in New York state. Jason visited him on his 70th birthday, just prior to the pandemic shutdown. “He looked older and frail, but still big, tan and dramatically younger than everyone else in the room,” recalls Jason.

During the peak of the pandemic, Anthony was diagnosed with COVID. Fortunately, he was asymptomatic. Unfortunately, the facility had one of the highest number of COVID-related deaths outside of New York City.

“We thought he wouldn’t make it, but he did, and the nurses were fabulous. They became our extended family through Zoom,” says Jason.

Merging two great ideas
At the end of 2020, Jason was on Facebook looking at different hiking groups when he came across the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge in Southern California. “I thought, maybe I can drive to Southern California and then I saw that they had one in the Bay Area,” said Jason. “I signed up for it and thought it was a cool thing I could do to challenge myself.”

While on Facebook, Jason also happened to also see an ad for the Alzheimer’s Association®. “I clicked on the page and a bell just rung. Let’s combine the two,” said Jason. “That seemed natural. I saw a hiking option on The Longest Day page. This was what I had been hoping for, and it didn’t have to be on June 20 [the summer solstice].”

The Longest Day is the day with the most light — the summer solstice. On June 20, people from across the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through a fundraising activity of their choice.

While The Longest Day is celebrated on June 20, many people, like Jason, choose to fundraise before or after summer solstice. Jason planned his hike for February and March of 2021.

Jason poses on the top of four different mountains in honor of his father for The Longest Day
Four of the six peaks Jason hiked for The Longest Day

Iconic Bay Area summit hikes
The Northern California Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge includes long hikes up six summits (Mount Umunhum, Mission Peak, Black Mountain, Mount Saint Helena, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais). Jason began scaling them in late February, with a goal of raising $2,000.

He completed all six peaks in just six weeks, and halfway through the challenge he reached his fundraising target. “I thought $2,000 was a lofty goal, but it went really well,” Jason says. “I raised $600 even before the first hike.”

Making it personal: a fundraising success story
At the start of every hike, Jason recorded a video and posted it on his two Facebook accounts. When he could, he posted videos during the hike, and then again at the top of each summit.

Jason thinks his storytelling made a big difference. “I always thanked everyone for their support and gave testimonials about my dad,” said Jason. “People who knew me before know more about me now because of the stories I told. They saw that my dad is a big part of who I am.”

Jason’s personal approach was compelling. By the time his supporters had donated $2,500, he decided it was time to raise his game too. He began reaching out to his contacts via email, and in just a few days he received several large donations.

“That’s when I realized $5,000 was an achievable goal,” he says. To date, Jason has raised $5,125.

Celebrating his 70th birthday, Jason hugs his dad who is living with Alzheimer's
Jason and Anthony celebrate Anthony’s 70th birthday

Family matters
Jason shares what it’s like to be a family member of a loved one who’s been living with Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years. “I feel as though I lost my father at such a young age, even though he’s still alive. It truly is ‘the long goodbye.’”

For Jason, being 3,000 miles away from his family is the hardest, while his mother and sister have been handling the day-to-day.

“My dad was always a tough guy, the rock of the family,” he says. “Now it’s amazing to see how strong mom has been through all of this, and my sister is a Rockstar in every sense of the word. Here I am raising two kids, and my sister is raising a father.”

Jason admits that he and his dad are very alike. “We both share how protective and close we keep our friends in making sure they know we will do anything for them. I’m lucky that through this challenge they have stepped up to support me!”

Staying on the trail
While Jason hasn’t always been a hiker, his dad’s experience with Alzheimer’s changed him. Jason says, “This disease is a reminder that you can be alive and not really alive. It forces you to take a lot into perspective.”

His family will continue to hike – for health, as well as for a growing appreciation of the environment. Jason is also looking forward to one last push for The Longest Day on June 20. While his original plan was to hike Half Dome, a big goal of his, he was unable to get a permit. Instead, he plans to hike one of the peaks closer to home and honor his father one more time.

The Longest Day may be celebrated on June 20, but you can raise funds year round. Start your fundraising today by visiting alz.org/thelongestday or join Jason’s team, Norcal Six-Pack of Peaks Hikes for Dad.

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