Andy Hughes has trouble getting around on his own, but with the help of friends, he will compete in a Columbus half-marathon on Saturday.
Hughes, 56, of Bellefontaine, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — commonly known by its initials, ALS, or as Lou Gehrig's disease — but his colleagues at Scotts Miracle-Gro in Marysville offered to help him complete the 13.1-mile OhioHealth Capital City Half Marathon.
The event, which begins and ends Downtown and starts at 8 a.m., is expected to draw 14,500 entrants.
"It’ll be great to get out of the house for a while, because at the moment, I’m housebound," Hughes said in a phone interview. "And it’ll be great to spend some time with my co-workers."
ALS hampers mobility by destroying nerve cells. The condition can be treated but has no cure, and the cause remains a mystery.
Doctors were at first unable to determine the cause of Hughes' dwindling mobility after he began to experience symptoms in September.
"They tested me for everything you can think of, and everything came back normal," Hughes said.
No single test exists to diagnose ALS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. As a result, an ALS diagnosis can take months; Hughes’ official diagnosis came five weeks ago.
Hughes, who moved to the United States from England in 2001, said he grew close to his co-workers in the years he worked at Scotts.
"In busy periods at work, you probably spend more time with them than you do your own family," Hughes said.
That time together led to close friendships. As a result, co-workers stepped in to help as his health declined and he eventually received his diagnosis. A group of them installed a wheelchair ramp in his house.
Some of them visit him there regularly, and it was during one of those visits that colleague Steve Spriggs, 44, noted that the Cap City Half-Marathon has wheelchair competitors. Spriggs suggested that Hughes could participate with the help of his co-workers.
"He thought it would be a good idea to cheer me up a little bit," Hughes said.
Hughes said he has worked out and kept himself in shape for most of his life, but other than running in a few 5-kilometer road races in his younger days, he has never run competitively.
Hughes said of the half-marathon, "I’ve never done anything like that, even when I was fully able."
The co-workers helping Hughes participate in the road race said they aren’t runners, either.
"I’m probably one of the most out-of-shape guys that’s going to be there," said Larry Paver Jr., 34, who worked directly under Hughes at the Marysville plant.
"A lot of these guys don’t normally run," Spriggs said. "They’re big, burly, tough guys. But they want to support Andy anyway they can."
Paver said he plans to accompany Hughes all the way to the finish line.
"I’m not sure how it’s going to go," he said. "Some will be able to go further than others. The biggest thing we want is for Andy to be able to enjoy himself and make it all the way through."