I had a very close childhood friend Jody Quinlan, who was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. He was wheelchair bound with only slight range of motion in one arm, so we came up with creative ways to compete with each other. We would bounce super balls into cans and roll Hot Wheels cars off of tables to see if we could get them to land upright and we’d do this for hours. We would play other games testing our knowledge that would show off his brilliant mind. At the mere age of 12, Jody was taking classes at the level of a senior in high school. I was in awe of him and nobody could make me laugh like he did.
Jody’s neck muscles were so weak that if his head fell to the side it would cut off his air, so everyone had to be vigilant around him. It truly was a battle for life and death every day of his fragile existence.
As a young kid in the 1970s, I also have fond memories of our family and friends watching the comedian, Jerry Lewis put on his MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Labor Day Telethon to raise money for research and help victims in the fight against this horrible disease. The TV show launched in 1966 and ran every Labor Day until 2010. It would start on Sunday night and go for nearly 24 hours straight featuring the great entertainment talents of the day who would come on and sing, dance and tell jokes in between corporations and private individuals presenting huge check donations for the cause. The entire nation watched and felt the urge to help.
The show inspired me and my friends to walk in the Topeka MDA Walk-a-thon. We even took Jody with us for several of the early morning miles — pushing his wheelchair along the route. We figured if Lewis could stay up all night entertaining people live on TV and making a fool of himself to raise money, we surely could walk 25 miles. I was proud to raise money and walk for those who could not.
Tragically Jody succumbed to this cruel disease when he was just 13 years old. He’s one of those people you are privileged to meet in life that stays with you long after they are gone. Jody will always be with me.
With the death of Jerry Lewis at the age of 91 on Sunday, we also saw the passing of someone that personified commitment to his fellow man. I cannot think of another star so closely identified with a mission to find a cure for something that afflicts others. I just read that his fundraising efforts on behalf of MDA had reached around the $2.5 billion mark. Incredible. It will be a big day of celebration when scientists find a cure, thanks in no small part to the dedication of this man. Rest In Peace Mr. Jerry Lewis. May you never walk alone.
To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.