A few weeks ago, Roger Ballard embarked on a road trip from Payson to Seattle. He wanted to see his children and meet his new granddaughter.
A few days later, Ballard returned home, never having made it to Seattle because of continuous money problems and car trouble.
Yet today, Ballard sums up his aborted journey with these words: "Good luck has never left my side."
That's a pretty remarkable attitude for someone who is terminally ill with Lou Gehrig's disease ... someone who may not get a second chance to visit with his family for perhaps the last time.
But then, 66-year-old Roger Ballard is a remarkable man. He was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the medical name for Lou Gehrig's disease, in November 1997. Three years later, Ballard was given six months to live. One year after that, he hiked from Payson to Scottsdale, and arrived at his destination a full day ahead of schedule, to help raise awareness of, and research funds for, ALS.
Just last Sunday, Ballard finished his third walk for the cause, bringing the total that he has raised thus far to $4,000.
Although the first symptoms of ALS usually affect the nerve cells which control muscle movement in the legs, Ballard's legs are in fine shape. In his case, the disease struck the nerve cells which control the muscles in his throat that once allowed him to speak.
But that doesn't mean Ballard has any trouble communicating. In conversation, his girlfriend, Marilyn Rude, acts as his translator. In other situations, he expresses himself through writing as in the letter he sent to the Roundup, detailing the derailment of his long hoped-for family reunion.
On the road
"I have an old 1979 half-ton truck with an overhead camper, and I was skeptical that I could get a safe, reliable journey out of it. But I went anyway, for lots of personal reasons," Ballard writes.
Fortunately, a friend who just so happens to be a master mechanic offered to go along for the ride, at least as far as Portland, Ore. Ballard's truck ran smoothly until the pair was 250 miles north of Los Angeles, at 4:30 a.m.
"The left rear tire blew, and it sounded like a grenade," Ballard reports. A bigger problem was the truck's broken axle bearing and seal, which ignited a fire. But after about four hours at the roadside, Ballard's friend got the fire out and the truck operational again.
But four hours later, in the middle of nowhere, the axle shaft gave out again. A California Highway Patrol officer commanded the two men to get the truck off the road and call a tow truck.
The next three or four hours were spent fruitlessly looking for a shaft. Finally, Ballard and his friend settled on installing a special bearing meant to extend shaft usage.
That got them to Barstow, before smoke from friction-heated oil started pouring from the rear of the truck.
"That's when I made the call to return to Payson," Ballard writes. "I was running out of money, patience and energy. I was on the edge ... My friend was also at the end of his output ..."
But soon, Ballard continues, he suddenly became calm, found a repair shop which had the axle shaft he needed, and befriended the owner a man whose father-in-law died of ALS.
"He showered me with help and compassion for my situation," Ballard recalls in his letter. "He even broke the rules and allowed me to do the repair work on his property."
It is at that point in the letter Ballard writes, "The good luck continued and, in fact, never left my life.
"I have been so blessed with my personal history, never had any physical problems, met so many wonderful people who gave to me that which cannot be bought: time.
"I also have in my life, Marilyn the most caring, loving person I have ever known. She gave up her whole life, her career, her family and friends to move here with me, to take care of me, to share her love.
"My luck continued when we moved to Payson. Here, I have met many new friends, some of whom were responsible for me being able to even start my 'trip' ... Let not my failure to make it to Seattle overshadow the real success story: luck. Neither I, nor my friend, had any injury from the tire blowout and fire. The repairs were a challenge, met and conquered ...
"This past two weeks has been a catalyst for me, in the sense that I must (and will) do more for others to fulfill the purpose of my extended life stay ... to inspire others to enjoy their remaining time ... to help them see that they are blessed with good and grace by their friends.
"So if you see this old man with a white beard in an old two-tone pickup with U.S.M.C. symbols and U.S. flags on the side panels, give me the famous 'Payson wave.' Although I am limited financially and physically, if you need help, I might be able to do something. I won't know if you don't ask."
That is the end of Ballard's letter. But there is a postscript.
"It might be a while before you see me driving around," he adds. "Two days after I got back, the whole rear axle went out."
Roger Ballard continues to raise funds 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.
The gift of giving has of itself a purpose, a dream:
That which is given shall ever be in life's scheme.
You choose each moment, a kaleidoscope event surmised;
Yet your reality clings to you, facing future's surprise.
Laugh, join others in your purpose, direction in unity;
A shared goal, entwined in mine, cloaked with divinity.
Who you are, what is seen, is the beauty, a heavenly view.
Be happy within, where lies all truth of you
That which I see flows freely, torrents of love abound.
And the lost-ness escapes, for in giving, I am found.