JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of people gathered at Tinseltown on Saturday to join in the Walk to Defeat ALS, including a large group of News4Jax employees walking to support executive producer Sharon Cohen who was diagnosed with a form of ALS.
She now uses her voice to push for a cure for the disease that affects some 20,000 people in the U.S.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
Cohen continues to work and smile, although she has gone from using a cane to using a wheelchair to get around. She is and continues to be an inspiration to all who come in contact with her due to her infectious smile and bubbly personality.
She was joined by dozens of co-workers, friends and family at today's walk.
"I am inspired by the dignity and courage and the grace of these people who have dealt with this a lot longer than I have. They are truly an inspiration," Cohen said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Songbirds walk to support Sharon, defeat ALS
Despite her diagnosis, she was smiling at today's walk and pleased to see so many others there to support her and others battling ALS.
"Originally, I didn’t want to talk about this. I was in denial but as a TV person, I was like, let’s get the awareness out and raise money," Cohen said.
ALS made national headlines on July 4, 1939, when New York Yankees' player Lou Gehrig announced he was stepping off the baseball diamond because he was diagnosed with ALS. In his farewell speech, he added that he considered himself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
After that speech 80 years ago, ALS was known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Now Cohen's walking team, known as Sharon's Songbirds, are supporting her as she uses this platform to express hope, courage and her thanks.
"Despite the challenge of this disease, I feel like the luckiest woman on the face of the earth," Cohen said.
People at the walk were chanting, "We will, we will, we will cure this disease."
Cohen said that's one of the things she will remember most about the walk.
An estimated $29,000 was raised by Sharon's Songbirds to support the effort to find a cure for ALS.
Money raised by the Jacksonville walk will go to help those locally living with and affected by ALS.
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