Organizers of an annual walk around Back Cove in Portland to raise money to fight ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, said the event received a jump in support after the popularity of this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

Not only did more people show up at Saturday’s walk from Payson Park around the cove, but more money was raised than ever before, organizers said.

“This is because of the Ice Bucket Challenge,” said Amy Coyne, fundraising and community relations manager at the Northern New England Chapter of the ALS Association as she watched hundreds of people preparing to walk 3½ miles around the estuary.

Coyne and several other organizers were scheduled to get an ice-water bath at the end of the walk.

Earlier this year, the chapter set a $143,000 fundraising goal, up from $141,000 in 2013. Coyne said that as of this past week, it had raised more than $153,000, which didn’t include last-minute donations for the walk. Between 800 and 1,000 walkers showed up on Saturday, compared to about 700 last year.

The challenge, which spread like wildfire on social media in July and August, dared people to pour a bucket of ice water over their heads within 24 hours of receiving a challenge from an earlier participant or give a financial donation to fight ALS. Politicians, professional sports teams, celebrities and regular folks merrily posted videos of themselves getting an icy dunking. The money poured in to the national organization and local chapters.


As of Friday, the Ice Bucket Challenge had raised $109.1 million for the ALS Association in Washington, D.C., from more than 3 million donors, compared to the $3 million the association raised in 2013.

On Saturday participants in the annual walk said the challenge shone a light on a disease many people don’t know about.

“My mom’s pet peeve was that no one knew about ALS. She would have been doing this about the Ice Bucket Challenge,” said Christine Demers of Lebanon, holding two thumbs up.

Demers’ mother, Ellie Gillis, died of ALS in 2011. A contingent of family members and friends walked Back Cove for the fourth year in a row to remember Gillis and raise money to fight the incurable disease, which affects about 30,000 people nationwide and 60 people in Maine at any given time.

The disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and results in paralysis.

Research has linked the disease to a genetic mutation, but little else is known. It commonly strikes between the ages of 30 and 70. About 10 percent of the cases are genetically inherited.


Only one drug, which can prolong survival by several months, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankees first baseman who died of the disease in 1941.

Among Saturday’s walkers were about 70 friends and relatives of the Pallotta and Risbara families of Scarborough. Marcia Risbara died of ALS at age 70 in June, said her son Marc Risbara. They were also walking in memory of his cousin Stephen Pallotta, a Scarborough firefighter and paramedic who died of ALS at age 36 in 2008.

“Everyone in this group has done the Ice Bucket Challenge,” Marc Risbara said.

John Gregoire of Windham, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2007 and took part in Saturday’s event, also participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. His wife, Linda, said they posted the video on YouTube to help raise money for a foundation they are hoping to set up to create a home for ALS patients who have nowhere to live.

“We did it in our yard, just dumped the water over him,” said Linda Gregoire as her husband, who can no longer speak, grinned.

The Gregoires then challenged Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree, Gov. Paul LePage and comedian Bob Marley to take the challenge. Everyone but the governor took the challenge, Linda Gregoire said.


“This is the most fun we had with ALS since he was diagnosed,” Linda Gregoire said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Correction: This story was updated at 9 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2014 to correct the spelling of Stephen Pallotta’s name/

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