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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Community tees off to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Gayle Fieberg, right, tries to coax her putt into the hole Friday on the par-3 tenth hole at Omni Tucson National Golf Resort and Spa while the rest of her foursome looks on. Golfers teed off at Catalina Course to benefit research for a cure for Lou Gehrigs Disease.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat Gayle Fieberg, right, tries to coax her putt into the hole Friday on the par-3 tenth hole at Omni Tucson National Golf Resort and Spa while the rest of her foursome looks on. Golfers teed off at Catalina Course to benefit research for a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The ninth annual Jim Himelic Memorial Golf Classic raised money for Lou Gehrig’s Disease on Friday.

Gehrig’s, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, attacking brain and spinal cord nerve cells, which weakens and eventually fully atrophies muscles.

The tournament is named in honor of Jim Himelic, a UA alumnus who died from the disease in 2000. Golfers teed off in a shotgun format, which means all the players teed off simultaneously on different holes.

Other community members took part in the tournament in order to honor Himelic.

“”I knew Jim (Himelic) very well, he was a very good friend,”” said Bryon Jones, a friend of the Himelics. “”Jim was one of the nicest men I’d ever met in my life, and his whole family is awesome.””

Jim and Gayle Fieberg were also friends of the Himelics.

“”We come even though we are Sun Devils,”” said Jim Fieberg, academic success specialist at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University.

“”The Himelics are our friends, and we have other family members with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) … the only way you are going to deal with something like this is to keep pounding money into research.””

Himelic graduated from the UA in 1973, practicing as a Tucson district attorney until the early 1980s before moving to private practice in the 1990s. He then became a juvenile court judge a few years before his death.

Dan Himelic, one of Jim Himelic’s seven kids, has tried to help find a cure for ALS through his work with the foundation, as well as pursuing a degree in medicine from the UA. He is graduating in May.

“”It’s probably the reason I got into med school,”” said Dan Himelic. “”I saw how much the disease can affect a family and what a good doctor can do for people, so that inspired me.””

Several people with UA ties, such as former UA coach Jerry Kindall, of whom Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium derives its namesake, took part to honor those throughout their lives who had dealt with the disease.

“”My late wife died of ALS 22 years ago and I’ve been here ever since they founded the tournament,”” Kindall said.

The disease affects about 5,600 people per year; most are given only two to five years to survive after being diagnosed.

Statistics like these drive Dan Himelic to keep the foundation moving towards its goal of raising $1 million in seed money for the UA Neurology Department to fight the disease.

Financing three different UA researchers, the foundation has provided funding for research into a mouse model, genetic research into the fruit fly and two UA doctors conducting clinical research, making the UA one of only 37 places in the country able to do this kind of extensive research. “”We are modeling ALS in fruit flies using DTP-43 protein. We can understand the mechanisms that lead to ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s,”” said Daniela Zarnescu, UA assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and neuroscience.

Zarnescu is utilizing the foundation’s seed money to apply for larger grants to study ALS through her fruit fly research. Examining dysfunctional motoneurons, she is utilizing a common protein in fruit flies and humans to try and find where genetic mutations begin in the development of the disease and how to eventually stop the development of the disease.

Four undergraduate students Brianna Grigsby, Rebecca Zwick, Ashley Boehringer and Cristie Drew, work with Zarnescu on this project to try to find a cure for ALS.

The golf tournament was followed by a silent auction, a dinner and dancing with buy-ins for guests from $60 to upwards of $1,000.

With an average turnout, the foundation has already raised more than $600,000 in the last nine years, which has gone towards research.

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