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A reason to run

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Old 01-14-2009, 08:18 AM   #1
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A reason to run
Former Lodian draws support from family, friends at ALS event
By Joelle Milholm

News-Sentinel Staff Writer
Updated: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 12:35 AM PST

Former Lodi resident Roberta Verges is pushed along in her wheelchair during the Lou Gehrig 5K/10K Run/Walk last weekend in Roseville. Family and friends took part in the event in support of Verges, who suffers from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). (Angelina Gervasi/Courtesy photographs)

For over 38 years, Don Womble has inspired people to run.

As the former head cross country coach at Lodi and current cross country and track and field assistant, the Lodi coaching staple has recruited endless high schoolers to the sport. He continues to do it to this day.

On Saturday, the tables turned as it was his niece Roberta Verges who inspired him to participate in Roseville's Lou Gehrig 5,000/10,000 Run/Walk. Verges, a 65-year-old Lodi native, suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Womble, at 82 years of age, has suffered from his own health problems in recent years. Nothing however, was going to stop him from helping raise money for research for ALS and helping those whose muscular systems are afflicted by it. So he walked the 5,000.

"I have to get ready. Track season is starting, so it gave me a little incentive to know that I can do that," he said.

Womble wasn't the only one out there to support Verges, a Lodi High graduate who led a very active life that included skiing and backpacking in the back country of Tahoe before falling victim to Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Womble's wife, Lou, and 40 of their family members attended the first annual event and 24 of them either ran the 10,000, 5,000 or kid's 1/2-mile fun run. The remainder cheered from the sidelines.

"It really was emotional, but it was exciting," Lou Womble said. "I think (Roberta) was really surprised and overwhelmed. She didn't think so many of us were going to be there."

Grandsons, cousins, siblings and in-laws descended into Roseville from Lodi, Chico, Bay City and Lincoln for the event. All six of the Womble's grandsons, including mixed martial arts star Nick Diaz, placed in the event. Diaz took 26th overall and fourth in the 20-29 age division in the 10,000 run. "It was great. It was neat to have as many there as there was and see how excited they were about running and walking and cheering people one," Don Womble said. "There was a lot of encouragement and that's the most important thing."

Over 500 participants took part in the race, including Verges, who was pushed in her wheelchair. Verges, who now lives in Danville, was officially diagnosed with ALS four years ago, but has suffered from the disease for much longer. There is no known cure for ALS, which attacks the brain and spinal cord's nerve cells and pathways. The disease progressively prohibits voluntary muscle movement, resulting in paralysis in its most severe stages.

The Wombles and their extended family plan to be back at the race next year, tying on their running shoes to help raise more money. Don Womble won't be walking the course though.

"I plan on being back next year and I plan on running," he said.



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