Santee man to walk across America for ALS in loving memory of his mother
March 1, is the sixth anniversary of his mother’s passing. She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2008. So in tribute to his mother, Mark Solz of Santee will begin his ALS Walk Across America. He is shooting to end his journey at the Yankee Stadium by the end of September, wanting to be there for its last home stand.
“I’m starting at Petco Park, travelling Old Hwy 80 through Alpine, down to Ocotillo, then north through Flagstaff, then straight across to Tennessee,” said Solz. “When I hit Roanoke, VA, then I’ll start heading up—ending up in Yankee Stadium. This year marks the 75th year of Lou Gehrig passing and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to him, and with my baseball roots...”
Now 52, Solz has lead an ever changing life. He grew up in Santee, went to Santana High School, playing CIF baseball until he graduated in 1981. He then went on to play for SDSU, then minored with the Cubs.
Since baseball, Solz spent the majority of his career in construction, living in Houston for 20 years, transitioned into oil and gas, business development and said his life was successful, making good money, and traveling. But during a partial knee replacement, Solz said he had several weeks laying around, where he began reevaluating his life.
“There are some things I wanted to do in life and if I didn’t do them, I would regret it,” he said. “So I left my job, sold my house, everything I had and moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. Did a lot of Indie Films, student films, TV and working my way into it, but this walk kept tugging on me”
A conversation he had with his mother while fighting ALS.
“I saw her losing her ability to walk,” he said. “Her motto always was ‘Living out Loud’ and it was hard to see someone that outgoing, get trapped in their own body. I told her, ‘I’d like to walk across the United States for you, Mom.’ Through her computer she told me to bring her ashes along with me and drop a little in each state. Mom loved to travel, so I will be doing that.”
Solz teamed up with the ALS charity Team Gleason. Steve Gleason, a football player for the New Orleans Saints, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 at the age of 34. Along with his wife, they started the charity to show there was still life to be lived, even with ALS.
“Something about his spirit just resonated,” said Solz. “He just wouldn’t quit. His organization helps people with ALS so that they get the technology so they can continue to communicate.”
He said that was one wonderful thing he saw with his mother when she received a machine that helped her to communicate. Without the retina scan technology available now, when she lost the ability to use her arms, she also completely lost her ability to communicate. Solz said Gleason’s story gives him inspiration to complete his passion to take this journey for his mother, and to raise money for the charity.
“Team Gleason also gives people an opportunity to go on an adventure, a quest. So let’s see what I can do to help raise money for them and raise some awareness,” he said.
While training he sprang a ligament in his foot due to improper shoes. But his injury became a optimistic experience. He found an orthopedic walking shoe from Drew Shoes. He sent them an e-mail on how good they were and now Drew Shoes is his official shoe sponsor for the walk, and flying in this month to prepare an interview to feature on its website.
For training, Solz is walking more than 10 miles a day and taking yoga for the physical and mental training for the journey.
“Taking on walking 3,200 miles, mentally I think it is going to be as trying as physically,” he said. “Especially times through the desert all by yourself and wondering, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’”
Solz said people response is positive with many wishing they could do something like this themselves. He said in many cases, work, obligations, family keep people from following through with something they are passionate about. He said he understands them because that is the life he was living, and he wanted more. But for the time being, he gave up on what is normally considered successful, and is following his heart to fulfill his wish for his mother.
“I worked hard at getting all of my debt behind me to allow me to do this. I’m not retired, I’m on a quest,” he said.
Solz will be traveling with a push cart (like a dog carriage) to pack everything, including tents, and sleeping bags. There will be a lot of tent camping either at campgrounds or stealth camping, and plans to stop on occasion at a place where he can rest up and clean up.
After telling his story to a Uber customer, whose father had ALS also, the customer and his son are joining him at Petco Park and walk the first few miles with them, “and that is an invitation to anyone who would like to do the same,” said Solz. His walk begins March 1, at 9 a.m. at Petco Park.
He said that many have asked what he is going to do after the walk is completed, but right now he is focusing on the walk.
“I know I’m not walking back for sure,” he said. “I’m going to journal the experience, blogging, and possibly write the next greatest novel. And I would like to get into public speaking, parlaying the idea of following your passions.”
To find out more about Solz’s ALS Walk Across America visit www.alswalkacrossamerica.com and follow his blog. There is a ALS Walk Across America by Mark Solz GoFundMe account, Facebook and Twitter @Marksolz.