A week ago today, Roger Ballard set out to hike from Payson to Scottsdale.
Friday, he arrived at his destination a full day ahead of schedule.
That would be pretty impressive if Ballard was a man of 22. But he's not. He's a man of 65, as of Saturday. And he walked the 75-some-odd miles to help raise awareness of and money for research into ALS the acronym for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, with which Ballard was diagnosed four years ago.
The disease has robbed Ballard of his ability to speak, and it is guaranteed to shorten his life. But it has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for life, slow down his passion for hiking, or keep him from helping other ALS victims.
When his trek came to an end at the offices of the ALS Foundation in Scottsdale, he presented the organization's officers with a check made out in the amount his hiking and public-relations efforts had raised: $2,144, including a $900 matching grant pitched into the kitty by the Payson Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Ballard began his hike Tuesday morning directly after receiving an official sendoff hosted by Mayor Ray Schum, and attended by a group of Marine veterans Ballard is a former Marine and "nearly everyone who works for the Town of Payson," said Ballard's girlfriend, Marilyn Rude.
Schum accompanied Ballard from Payson Town Hall to Highway 260, and Ballard was escorted to the outskirts of town by police cruisers.
Rude made three trips a day down the Beeline to drop Ballard off wherever she'd picked him up the night before; to check on him and his water and food supply; and to bring him home around 7 each night.
That routine was interrupted only once, briefly, around the halfway mark.
"I just drove right by him," Rude said with a laugh. "Roger was sitting right by this post. He saw me, but I never saw him. After that, he picked up one of those little orange road-construction flags, and I never missed him again."
The walking and the mileage wasn't hard on Ballard, she reported; but the heat "really got to him a couple of days there ... and he got a little sunburned on his legs. But all in all, he did just fine."
Ballard strolled into ALS headquarters Friday afternoon at 2:30 one day ahead of schedule and, therefore, one day before the big combination victory/birthday bash that had been planned for him.
"So we went back down there Saturday, and I joined him on the last symbolic mile of the walk so he could meet all the people at his arrival celebration."
The event was covered by Valley television news teams from Channels 3, 12 and 15 increasing the awareness of ALS "more than any single event in Arizona that I can recall," said Maria Garcia, event coordinator for the ALS Foundation.
"Roger's accomplishment says that although ALS patients know what the end result (of the disease) will be, they are very open to living life to the fullest," Garcia said. "They are not downtrodden, woe-is-me types; they are very much alive and positive.
"In my experience, I have never known anyone with ALS who has accomplished something of this magnitude," Garcia said of Ballard's achievement. "We have patients who paint, who write. But such a major physical accomplishment? No."
Although his hike has ended, Roger Ballard has not stopped his fund-raising efforts on behalf of the ALS Foundation. Donations made in his name can be sent to the ALS Association, Arizona Chapter, 5040 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85254. For more information about ALS, call the foundation at (480) 609-3888.