Athlete Louis Mykoff hopes to inspire others to make a difference in people’s lives by running ultramarathons. Recently, Mykoff raised nearly $23,000 for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—research by completing an ultramarathon of his own design. He ran 125 miles in five days on the Mississippi River bank levee from downtown Baton Rouge to the Superdome in New Orleans. For the second year in a row, Mykoff has completed the journey to raise awareness and donations for ALS. “It feels good to help other people. I have been so inspired by Steve Gleason and his story,” Mykoff says.
Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints standout, was diagnosed with ALS, considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease, in 2011. Gleason, his family and friends established the Team Gleason Initiative Foundation to generate public awareness for ALS, raise funding to empower those with ALS to live a rewarding life and ultimately find a cure. Last year, Mykoff’s run raised more than $11,000 in donations for Team Gleason. “Steve Gleason had done more in six months than I have done in my whole life. He has inspired me to help other people,” Mykoff notes as to why he decided to do another marathon this year to raise funds for ALS.
On the field, Gleason will always be remembered for his blocked punt on the night the New Orleans Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina. “That was a defining moment for the city, the state, and the team that we love,” says Mykoff. Gleason played football for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2008. Even after being diagnosed with ALS, Steve is determined to inspire others by continuing to pursue life adventures despite his diagnosis, and has challenged the worlds of technology and science to identify their most promising developments toward new treatments and a cure.
About 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year in the United States, according to the ALS Association. The incidence of ALS is 2 per 100,000, with 30,000 having the disease at any given time. Gleason’s attitude toward life has certainly impacted Mykoff’s. He adopted some of Gleason’s expressions, like “No White Flags” into his training mantras as well as coming up with a few of his own like “Do Work”. “I knew I wanted to be better prepared and better trained for this year’s marathon,” Mykoff stresses. So, his earnest training and the solicitation of donations started about three months before his Red Crescent Run kicked off. “Steve’s story inspired me, so I decided to do something kind of crazy, impactful, and important—something that would make a difference in others’ lives, and also something that would make me feel inspired and complete,” Mykoff says about his commitment to running the ultramarathon.
Mykoff, age 29, who is a triplet, has been a runner most of his life. In junior high and high school, he ran on his schools’ track teams, competing in the one-mile, two-mile and three-mile cross country races. A graduate of Louisiana State University who majored in business management, Mykoff is the bar manager at Zippy’s Mexican Restaurant in Baton Rouge. He has worked there for the last 13 years, starting when he was only 16 years old. “It’s is a neighborhood bar like ‘Cheers’, where everybody knows your name,” Mykoff says, adding that many of the patrons made donations to ALS through him during his marathon.
Starting near the USS Kidd battleship in downtown Baton Rouge, Mykoff began his Red Crescent Run on Tuesday, October 21st. “I was ready to run. I started running about 5:30am, and this year I went real slow. Last year, I got shin splints. At the end of the first day, I had covered 26 miles,” Mykoff says, adding he reached his first stop for the day around 11:00am.
As he ran, Mykoff’s friend, Teroy Roberts, slowly pedaled his bicycle beside Mykoff along the way. Roberts carried water, supplies and “goo” packs, which are portable packs of caffeine and sugar for runners to eat while running. One of the customers of Zippy’s loaned Mykoff and his team of three friends a travel trailer so they would have a place to sleep each night during the run. “Normally, I run at a fast pace, but I took it slow this year. That first day, I literally sat in the camper with iced knees and ankles. My right knee was swollen,” Mykoff admits. “I had over trained. I had run more than 300 miles training in September.”
During his preparation for the marathon, Mykoff was working full time. When his right knee became swollen, he took off 10 straight days from training to try to reduce the swelling. After running 26 miles the second day of the marathon, Mykoff says his knee was causing him some pain. “I was running on the levee and it is not paved. I was running on uneven pebbles where some of the rocks are small and some are large. I was really hurting the second day,” recalls Mykoff.
The fourth and fifth day of the marathon became more exciting to Mykoff. “I was getting back into civilization and it was more exciting,” he says, adding at random spots along the levee, people would greet him and cheer him on his quest. The fourth day, Mykoff and his posse of friends were treated to a free lunch and a place to park the camper for the night. That night, he and his crew went to St. Rose’s Tavern where the owner and the workers donated $1,300 toward his cause. “It is pretty amazing how many people care. Everyone helping each other out, in the South, it’s so nice. I had friends too who donated $100, and that was a lot of their income,” Mykoff notes.
Even though he had one more day of the marathon to run, Mykoff and his friends decided to go to Champions Square at the Superdome Friday night to attend Gleason Gras, sponsored by Team Gleason. What happened to Mykoff and his three friends there was unexpected. When he and his friends arrived at Gleason Gras, the first “cool moment” was looking at a huge video monitor and seeing a photo of himself running on the levee holding up a 100 mile sign, Mykoff says. “The words ‘Run Louis, run’ were scrolling along the bottom of the video monitor, and there is about 10,000 people at Champions Square looking on,” adds Mykoff.
At the celebration, Mykoff says he did not have the $250 each for him and his friends to purchase the V.I.P. tickets to get into the section where Steve Gleason and several notable Saints were greeting fans. But much to Mykoff’s surprise, they were ushered into the V.I.P. tent and came face to face with Gleason. “I got to meet Steve Gleason and the moment was surreal–the slowest 15 seconds of my life. I got to meet the whole inspiration behind the run. It was an incredible moment I’ll never forget,” Mykoff enthuses. “It was an awesome moment. I had spent hundreds of hours training for that one moment, and it was worth it,” Mykoff says about meeting his hero.
On the last leg of his ultramarathon, Mykoff says his friend, Michael Tu, ran along beside him. People cheered him on as he ran along the levee. To celebrate the completion of his journey, Mykoff and a group of runners who joined him, ran about five miles on Sunday to culminate his efforts at the Steve Gleason “Rebirth” statue outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Despite the physical challenges, Mykoff felt nothing but euphoria upon accomplishing a goal he had set for himself. “It was such an awesome feeling. It feels good to help others. Life is really about helping others. When you see someone smile because it’s something you did, it makes you feel happy,” he says.
Mykoff plans on repeating the marathon next year. He has been on a speaking circuit lately talking about how others can make a difference. Recently, Mykoff, whose grandfather is Alvin Mykoff, spoke to the Alexandria Rotary Club about his marathon and the reasons behind it. “I hope to inspire others to reach out and help others,” Mykoff says, adding he hopes to obtain new sponsorships for his ultramarathon next year.
To make a contribution to Team Gleason for ALS research and awareness, visit www.gofundme.com/redcrescentrun.