John Musser had already been through the struggle of watching his father battle Alzheimer’s and his mother try to care for him as he progressed. Now, he’s experiencing it even more deeply, as a caregiver for his 56-year-old wife who has been battling early-onset Alzheimer’s for several years.
Musser says, “No greater love hath any man than to lay down his life for another. That is what spouses do. They die taking care of their loved ones.”
Knowing all too well what caregivers go through, he decided to inspire others in the same situation while doing a 24-hour rowing streak as a fundraiser. His goal? To raise $20,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day initiative. Held on the Summer Solstice, that’s when the association honors those living with the disease and their caregivers.
The organization explains, “We chose the longest day of the year, to honor those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, for whom every day is the longest day.”
To mark this occasion, Musser rowed for 24 hours at his church, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Yorktown, Virginia. The effort of love also ended up breaking a world record. He covered 282,981 meters on a concept2 rower. That was the highest total ever in the lightweight category for his age group. The prior record was 274,116 meters.
Musser says that the act of rowing is similar to being a caregiver because you keep working hard but don’t end up getting anywhere.
He explains, “You know, if you’re a parent of a 2-and-a-half-year-old, six months later that child is smarter than they were six months ago. And the things that you’re teaching them they’re gaining. This is just the reverse of that. It’s not normal and it’s very mentally and physically and emotionally exhausting and draining.”
The rowing effort was draining in a different way, with Musser saying he couldn’t stand up after five or six hours. Despite that, he soldiered on for 24 hours, with his fundraiser surpassing his original goal by tens of thousands of dollars.
Among those cheering his determination were his fellow church members and former Army buddies; his wife of 20 years, Robin; and other family members, including their daughters, Kelsey Lane and Cassady Smith.
Smith says, “They have a beautiful relationship. He wants my mom to continue to have all the things that are important to her. Just putting on her pearls every morning for her makes her feel extra beautiful and he does go above and beyond to do that for her.”
This isn’t the first time Musser has gone above and beyond to fundraise, either. In 2018, he and his friends hiked 22 miles in the Grand Canyon over eight hours for The Longest Day. Smith says it’s inspiring to see Musser work so hard in the fight against Alzheimer’s. She explains that the work helps them better connect with and understand their mom.
Through it all, Robin still lives at home, and she and her husband still manage to ride their motorcycle, go out for dinner dates, and camp in their RV.
The fundraiser has already gathered more than $50,000 in donations, which will likely keep rising. It will remain up through August 31st.
To hear more about John, Robin, and the long row, check out the video below from WAVY-TV in Virginia.