"When I got accepted into Vanderbilt, my grandfather told my grandmother that he hoped I would find a cure for Alzheimer's," said Jennifer, daughter of Billy and Karen Reed of Shelbyville. "The day he passed, my grandmother was wearing a shirt that said, 'The end of Alzheimer's starts with me.' That day I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to help put an end to this disease."
And she has.
The Shelbyville Central High School and Vanderbilt graduate, who now attends the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis, is organizing the Race for the Summitt. The 4-mile race will take place in Memphis Saturday, March 23, and will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation, charged with funding Alzheimer research.
Why a 4-mile race instead of the more traditional 5K or 10K?
"Memphis is one of the most active running groups in United States," Jennifer said. "There's probably four or five running events in Memphis that weekend so we thought this would kind of set us apart and give a unique feel to it."
Jennifer, who once cheered for Shelbyville Central High, is hoping the Bedford County community will support the race inspired by her grandfather.
"He was a huge supporter of women's basketball," Jennifer said. "They used to take me to all of the basketball games, home and away, when Rick (Insell) was coach. I grew up in that gym. He's also a huge, huge fan of the Lady Vols and loves Pat Summit."
Roy showed his first symptoms of Alzheimer's in about 1998, Jennifer said, although she was still too young to witness them. "He'd forget little things," Jennifer said. "My grandmother would notice he'd forget to sign a check; things like that."
It wasn't until 2004 that he was officially diagnosed, and he lived another seven years after that, progressively getting worse. "When I was in high school (in 2004) his signs were more noticeable," she said. "He had a very vacant stare. He was there but he wasn't, and he started forgetting names. I can't remember the last time he said my name."
Jennifer remembers the toll Roy's condition took on the family.
"My grandmother couldn't leave his side," she said. "She couldn't even leave him with my dad or uncle because he couldn't recognize them. Anytime she wasn't with him it took his comfort zone away and he became very agitated.
"It was difficult because he was a very brilliant man. He used to help at the newspaper with weather stats. He loved to read, and to travel."
The last family trip came in 2009, when the Reeds packed up for Disney World. It's a memory of which Jennifer's very fond.
"We could tell he enjoyed it, whether he knew it was going on or not I don't know," she said. "He recognized us but didn't. It's all a really, really hard process."
Jennifer hung on to the memories and remembered her grandfather's prediction about Jennifer finding a cure for the disease, waiting for the right idea to pop into her mind about exactly how she could get started on that mission.
"When Pat Summitt started this, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to pair up and raise awareness for this cause," said Jennifer, the race's co-chair. "Being in the health care industry, I know we basically have nothing for this disease. There are some things that can slow the progression, but nothing to treat and cure it. There's just not a lot of awareness out there."
The remainder of the proceeds from the March race will go toward the Academy of Student Pharmacy, the group assisting Jennifer with the planning of the race.
"Basically what we do is advocate for the pharmacy profession and on top of that we go out and provide free patient care events in Memphis and Knoxville," Jennifer said.
www.raceforthesummitt.com or may donate through a benefit account at Peoples Bank in Shelbyville.
Jennifer said she's looking forward to seeing her own family as well as old friends on the course come race day.
"I'm registered," she laughed. "I might run four miles on race day just running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but I am training for it. Even my dad, who I've never seen run a race before, is going to run."