LaGRANGE — The five Sledge brothers are as tough as nails, but Roger, Kenny, David, Ricky and Phillip all have one soft spot that they’re willing to walk miles for in hopes of a cure.
Her name is Nancy Ruth Sledge, a former kindergartner director, holiday decorator, church supporter, christen woman and die-hard Auburn fan. She is also their mother and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
The Sledge brothers said Nancy was diagnosed about three years ago, but they said it just rapidly progressed within the last year or so.
“It’s a numbing experience,” said Ricky. “It takes away memory. That’s the worst part of it.”
“She’ll look at me, but she won’t know my name,” explained Phillip. “So I’ll say, ‘Hey mom! It’s your baby boy Phillip,’ and she’ll repeat, ‘Baby boy Phillip.’ But she won’t know what it means … her memories are gone, and it hurts.”
The brothers said the disease eventually turned their mom into a stranger – taking its toll on her personality and livelihood.
“She was in the hospital not too long ago, and I went to give her a kiss goodbye … and she turned her cheek away,” said David. “I said, ‘Mom, I was just going to give you some sugar goodbye.’ She said, ‘Well, I don’t love you no more.’ I said, ‘Well, I love you and I always will.’ It didn’t really hurt my feelings because I know that’s not my mom talking, it’s the disease.”
“She’s scared. She knows something’s not right,” Kenny added. “But she doesn’t know what happened to her. She doesn’t realize she’s sick.”
When the five Sledge brothers put their minds together, they become a formidable force. Which is why, when someone pitched the idea of forming a team to honor their mother in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the brothers got the ball rolling — and never looked back.
In just two and a half weeks the men and their families have already exceeded their expectations. Their goal was to raise $1,000. As of Friday morning, the group had doubled that amount and collected more than $2,000, and the brothers said the money was still coming in from friends, family and co-workers.
The men’s father, Frank Sledge, contributed $100 for each one of his sons; Ricky donated $100 for every one of his children as well.
Folks taking part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday at the Vernon Woods Retirement Community in LaGrange will not be able to miss the brothers. The five men, plus their spouses — David’s wife, Terri; Ricky’s wife, Kristen; Phillip’s wife, Kim; and Roger’s wife, Angie — plus their children and grandchildren will be dressed very uniquely.
The brothers created specialized T-shirts. On the back will be the silhouette of the five brothers with their “Sons of Sledge” team name on top and the words “fight” and “walking for mom” underneath. The symbolic purple ribbon for Alzheimer’s is printed on the front of the shirt. The men said the T-shirts embody their resolve to help find a cure for the disease — whether they see it in this lifetime or not.
In the 1960s to 1970s, Nancy was a teacher and director for Valley Haven, David said, a school for the mentally challenged in Valley, Alabama. All the brothers said their mom had a “love for people in unique circumstances.”
He said this walk is a way of continuing her spirit of caring for others.
“I feel like we’re a blessed family, raised in a Christian home and we’re all Christians,” David explained nodding to each of his brothers sitting around the table. “It is our faith in Christ that keeps us going … and mom would be the first one to say, ‘Don’t worry about me, take care of daddy. Take care of yourselves.’ To me, doing this (event) is us fighting a battle that she can’t fight on her own.”
“Our parents raised us right,” added Roger. “It’s an honor to be able to take care of them.”
The brothers said the disease is not just taking its toll on Nancy, but on their dad, Frank, too. At 81-years-old, Frank is her primary caregiver.
Nancy’s failing health may make it hard for her to participate in the walk on Saturday, even in a wheelchair. But the brothers said they hope to at least push her across the finish line.
“We are sons of Sledge. We take care of family first. We stick together and we are going to fight for a cure,” David said. “We love our mom.”
The 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer’s is Saturday at the Vernon Woods Retirement Community at 101 Vernon Woods Drive in LaGrange. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Opening ceremonies start at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 9:30 a.m.
Anyone seeking more information about the walk or to donate to the Sons of Sledge campaign, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org/walk.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.