A Triathlete's Battle with ALS
By Ron Anderson
My brother Robert Anderson had a dream to be a triathlete, a national age group champion and part of the world age group triathlon team, Team USA. As a true sports enthusiast, athlete, sheriff, and father of two, Lieutenant Anderson has always been involved in sports.
From baseball to football, hockey to soccer, Rob was in love with being competitive. As a ball player, he was successful playing on regional and national teams. As a coach, he loved to teach and mentor his teams to be winners. Ever since Rob could get out in the fields to play ball, he had been active in sports. Like most, he got his start in sports as a Little League Baseball player; an avid player who focused on being a great catcher and a great hitter (hitting above .500), often talented enough to be selected to play on a regional championship teams. When baseball was complete and the season transitioned to fall Rob typically played hockey and football.
Growing up in California during the 70s, hockey was a unique experience and adventure; up at the crack of dawn each weekend for practice, often traveling great distances just to play a single game. Soon Rob was in tournaments, championship games and traveling nationally to play against greater New York and Canadian teams. Highly competitive, the sports bug was definitely in full stream for Rob. Soon it was high school football, wrestling, and baseball.
With all the discipline it took to be a successful athlete, his learned skills seem to easily translate into his next destination — his professional career. Soon after high school, Rob entered the Los Angeles Sheriff Academy. A perfect position for a young man who was active, loved people and had a heart for giving. He respected the job and his abilities enough to know that he could make a career out of serving others. As with his previous success in sports, Rob soon was meeting and working with others who shared his passions.
As his family grew he also found himself becoming a lead AYSO coach and mentor. For years he continued to educate and mentor his teams on sports and life. Each year this continued with great success, until a few years ago when he got the bug to do a triathlon.
After seeing many events and hearing about the challenges and discipline it took to become a triathlete, Rob decided it was time for him to test himself in another sport. As a true competitor he dug deep in his training serious in learning all he could about the sport. After weeks of training, he was at the starting line. Although a newbie to the sport, Rob was focused. Like many, he was not happy with his finish time. Quickly thoughts of improving rattled his mind. Soon he found himself signing up for a number of additional triathlons. His pinnacle race for the year was the Los Angeles Triathlon, but soon he was traveling with his brother to see the USA Triathlon Sprint National Championships and ITU World Championships in Budapest.
The following tri season soon began. As with the prior season, Rob was anxious to pursue his dreams in sports and as a triathlete. No longer a newbie, Rob’s plan was to focus on speed in both the run and swim. As Rob trained he discovered something different was going on in his training this year. Instead of getting stronger he was getting weaker. Continual twitching in his left arm and shoulder was noticeable. Soon it was a strain and twitching in his back and right arm. He went to his physician who recommended him to a neurologist. Through several tests and visiting additional specialists, Rob learned that he had a rare version of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis- Familial ALS (otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
This rare strain of ALS had plagued his family for generations effecting his mother, uncle, cousins, grandparents, and great grandparents. In fact, this disease, Rob believes, may have reached as far back as his great great grandfather. Not new to the history and the effects of this disease, Rob knew of the potential progression and his possible future. Always the fighter, Rob continued to fight the disease through being active and by participating in sports. Immediately his focus was on raising money for a cure.
With respect, acknowledgement, and the continual bond of the sheriff family, BBQs, special events, sponsored runs and rides, all contributed to the raising of $20,000 for a cure. Additionally, through his relationships, friends and family, Rob has worked to establish the first tri race in Long Beach, Calif., designated solely for the purpose of raising money to support ALS and its community. The goal is to establish a race that would continually support the efforts of assisting in and finding a cure. The first "Dream Big Triathlon" will be held in June 2012.
The progression of this disease for Rob has been fast. In less than a year Rob has lost the ability of motion in his limbs, hands, and his bulbar muscles, making it difficult to eat and speak. Although limited in his abilities, Rob continues to be active in his goals for leaving a mark as a person and an athlete. By continually contributing to the efforts that he and his family and friends have put into place, Rob continues to live the dream of being a true athlete.