It's not every hiker who gets a gala personal sendoff from the mayor of Payson. But that's what will happen Tuesday morning as 65-year-old Roger Ballard hits the road on foot to begin his 80-or-so-mile trek from Town Hall to Scottsdale.
Ballard, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, is making the journey to help raise awareness of, and research funds for, ALS the acronym for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the medical name for Lou Gehrig's disease.
Although the first symptoms of ALS usually affect the nerve cells that control muscle movement in the legs, Ballard's legs are in fine shape as evidenced by his many hikes through some the most difficult landscapes in the Rim country.
In Ballard's case, the disease announced itself three years ago by striking the nerve cells that control the muscles in his throat that once allowed him to speak. But that's not to say this Payson resident can't communicate. His girlfriend, Marilyn Rude, acts as his translator; she understands Ballard's pantomime and gestures perfectly.
To prepare for his newest challenge, Ballard has taken a nine-hour warm-up walk to Rye and back, followed by a 26-miler straight down the Beeline. While he swears that none of his muscles ache after such workouts, Ballard does admit to another kind of pain. Pulling up his pant leg, he displays the back of his left leg which is sunburned to a bright, near-fluorescent red.
Ballard won't have to spend his nights camped out by the side of the road; Marilyn will pick him up every evening, wherever he happens to be, and bring him home for a shower and a good night's sleep. The next morning, she'll drop him off at the same location.
Ballard plans to complete his walk on Saturday, May 12 his 66th birthday. When he reaches his destination Arizona's chapter of the ALS Association at 5040 E. Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale he will hand a check to the organization's officials. So far, Marilyn says, Ballard has collected about $900 in donations, and hopes to have amassed at least $1,000 by the time he reaches the association's front door.
Ballard will receive an official send-off by Mayor Ray Schum at 9 a.m. Tuesday in front of Payson Town Hall.
The public is invited to attend and, Ballard hopes, contribute to his cause.
Those who cannot attend can mail donations in Roger Ballard's name to the ALS Association, Arizona Chapter, 5040 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85254. For more information, call the organization's executive director, Sue Gorham, at (480) 609-3888.