Pair of canoers ‘break the stigma’ of life with Alzheimer’s

Pair of canoers ‘break the stigma’ of life with Alzheimer’s

Pair of canoers 'break the stigma' of life with Alzheimer's

Along the Lake Nokomis Shore on Saturday sat three canoes and a pair of friends.

Darrell Foss of Eagan and Wendy Norcross of Golden Valley forged a friendship over common causes: A shared love of paddling and a drive to spend their lives fighting for the end to Alzheimer’s.

Foss, 80, was diagnosed eight years ago, and Norcross lost her parents to dementia. The pair met by happenchance at an Alzheimer’s Association event in Washington DC earlier this year and instantly bonded. They reconnected on Saturday for a morning on the water.

“I think it’s been an important part of keeping me going,” Foss said of canoeing.

“We’re trying to break that stigma that you need to crawl into a hole,” Norcross added about getting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “Because there’s just friendships to be built at 80 years old. And there’s still things that 80-year-old people with dementia can teach somebody like me.”

It’s a hobby half a century old for Foss, who built one of the canoes sitting on the Lake Nokomis Shore, and he and a couple of friends designed a second.

His days of whitewater canoeing and portaging are admittedly over, Foss said, but he’s able to hit the water fairly regularly thanks to support from his wife, Mary, and friends, including Norcross.

“I went into a state of depression after I got the diagnosis. Mary let me be depressed for about 48 hours. And then she said, well, that’s enough of that. Now we’re going to have to come up with what is going to be our purpose. What are we going to do?” Foss continued.

Norcross faced a similar crossroads after losing her parents to dementia. She’s on a journey of her own, paddling from state to state in a purple canoe. She’s reached 37 out of 50 states so far, she said.

“We’ve kind of come to realize that the importance is just knowing or letting that one person know that they’re cared about, and that we’re out here fighting for you,” Norcross said. “And that we’re not going to give up until we see that first survivor.”

“There is life after the diagnosis,” Foss added. “And it’s a terrible diagnosis to get — but we’re living well, I’m living well with the disease. We’re having a good time.”

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