May 2019 Volunteer of the Month
In 2003, Robert Carlson was diagnosed with ALS. The next year, his wife, Fran, wasted no time and captained the first Carlson’s Roughriders team at the Chapter’s Seaside Walk to Defeat ALS. The disease crashed over her family as harshly as waves crash over the Jersey Shore. Over the past 15 years, Fran has remained a powerful force in the fight to defeat the disease that took her husband’s life shortly after that first Walk.
Initially, Fran had no idea how much of a toll ALS would take on her family, or if she would have the strength to endure it. However, after the Carlson’s Rough Riders’ first Walk, and the loss of her beloved husband, Fran remains steadfast in her mission to defeat ALS.
The Seaside Walk to Defeat ALS became a family tradition for the Carlsons. In addition to forming a team, fundraising, and participating in the walk, Fran became an integral part of the Walk committee. For 15 years, Fran has been at the helm of the Walk, planning details with Chapter staff and volunteers and recruiting new teams. In 2004, Fran began walking for her husband. Today, she she walks in unison with everyone affected by ALS.
“I remember one year walking along the boardwalk when a young man asked what we were doing and why everyone was wearing team shirts,” remembers Fran. “I told him about my husband and the walk, and he donated $20 in cash right there. It is a moment that we’ll never forget. Later, I donated $20 to a team that was walking in honor of a 19-year-old who had been diagnosed with ALS and since that time, each year, I continue to donate a little extra to another team. It all stems from a kind stranger on the boardwalk.”
In 2012, Super Storm Sandy horrifically damaged Seaside Heights and surrounding areas in New Jersey. The committee was unsure when, how, or if the walk could continue on the Boardwalk. But Fran and other volunteers knew that, if they were as strong as the ocean waves that destroyed their beloved boardwalk, they had to be even stronger than that storm had been. Seaside is close to Lakewood, NJ and the Lakewood BlueClaws, Class A Affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, had been participating in the Walk for several years. Jim DeAngelis, the team’s Community Relations Vice President had a solution – The BlueClaws ballpark became the new site for the 2013 Walk to Defeat ALS. The new location was met with support from the Carlson family and all walkers. Consequently, the Walk continued its success.
The new site in Lakewood brought new teams and ALS families to the walk. When a newly diagnosed person with ALS came to the walk by themselves, Fran invited him to join Carlson’s Rough Riders. To her, everyone at the walk was part of the same family and she made sure that each walker felt welcome.
In 2017, the Walk to Defeat ALS returned to Seaside. Fran knew they could make it a great day again. She and the committee found new attractions for the walk, recruited more teams, and made that walk a very special homecoming for everyone.
This year, 15 years after she first put on her Roughriders shirt, Fran was once again at the Walk’s registration table, welcoming families with support and care. Fran Carlson’s commitment to defeating ALS will keep her at that table until there is a cure. Thank you, Fran, for 15 years of leadership and for giving so much of yourself to the ALS cause year after year.