Tag Archives: ALS Association

Heather Grahame: ALS Triathlon Champ

If you missed your most recent issue of the Helena Independent Record, here’s a story worth noting.

The Montana paper reports that Heather Grahame is one of the top female triathletes in the nation in her age group. AT 63, she recently finished 4th in the 60-64 division at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Denmark.

Amazingly, she’s done the very grueling event for only 6 years.

Grahame entered her first triathlon because she’s always been a competitor. Four years later her brother Tom was diagnosed with ALS. Now she uses triathlons as fundraisers.

Heather Grahame in action.

Grahame’s been an athlete all her life. As a member of Staples High School’s Class of 1973, she captained the field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

While there, she looked for a summer job that paid well and involved adventure. She leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut and Eskimo villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

She’d get dropped off by a small bush plane on a gravel airstrip. She had to find a place to sleep and a pond, then start an education program. Grahame showed different degrees of burns by roasting marshmallows, and used walrus bones to demonstrate how to stabilize human injuries.

She loved the challenges, the mountains and the Bering Sea. Stanford did not start until late September, so when the program ended she worked in a cannery (earning enough money to cover much of her tuition), and backpacked in Denali National Park.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame moved to Anchorage. The economy was booming. Support for education, arts and trail systems were strong. Her daughters enjoyed a public school with 2 teachers per classroom, 2 Spanish immersion programs, and one in Japanese.

Grahame focused on public utility law. With so many complicated rural utility issue, she had plenty of work.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)

In 2010 she moved to Helena to become general counsel for NorthWestern Energy, a publicly traded utility serving Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Nebraska and much of South Dakota. Later, she added the title of vice president in charge of regulatory and federal government affairs.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s, Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She trained at the Olympic Center, and in 1988 finished 6th at the Olympic trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

But when she learned that Team Challenge ALS was participating in the 2017 New York City Triathlon, she signed up. She raised over $3,500 for the ALS Association.

“Racing is a completely different experience, and far more satisfying, when you can use it as a means to help others,” Grahame says.

She also raises funds by logging her workouts with her phone’s Charity App. Miles earn dollars donated by various businesses.

A typical sight, on a typical Heather Grahame training ride.

Grahame does not get back to Westport often. But she looks forward to attending the next Compo lifeguard reunion.

For one thing, her time on the Compo chair helped get her to Alaska — and paved the way for the many fulfilling athletic endeavors that followed.

For another, those long-ago Westport guards have contributed to her ALS fundraising efforts.

“The generosity of the human spirit is amazing,” Grahame says. “The support has come from many people I haven’t seen since I was 18. I cannot thank them enough.”

(To contribute to Heather Grahame’s fundraising efforts, click here. To read the full Helena Independent Record story, click here.)

Remembering Jim Conant

Midway through 6th grade, a new kid suddenly entered Burr Farms Elementary School. Our friend groups were well established, but everyone liked Jim Conant. He was funny. He was smart as hell. And — this is not something one generally says about almost-teenage boys — he was kind.

As we moved through Long Lots Junior High and Staples, Jim and I remained friends. Not best friends — we hung out in different circles — but we shared classes, senses of humor, and ways of seeing the world.

Jim Conant

Jim Conant

Jim always seemed to know who he was. I had no clue whatsoever. I admired his calm sense of self, even if I couldn’t describe it at the time.

Jim went to Princeton, and made a name for himself academically (graduating magna cum laude) and musically (he was a fantastic trumpet player). I went to Brown, still trying to figure things out. We shared a good-natured rivalry.

Jim then earned a master’s in electrical engineering from UCLA. He went on to work with radar, sonar and software. He held two patents.

I went on to do whatever it is I do. We lost touch, though he lived just an hour away in Brookfield.

Three years ago, at a Staples reunion, we reconnected. I told him how much I’d admired him when we were younger. He seemed surprised.

At the Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

At a Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

A few months later we met for dinner in Ridgefield. We caught up on our lives. He told me about his marriage and divorce, his 3 kids, his involvement in youth sports and a youth math program, and his civic volunteer work.

But Jim seemed distracted. A couple of months later, he called to say why. The afternoon of our dinner, he’d been diagnosed with ALS.

He relayed the news matter-of-factly. With his scientific mind, he’d already done plenty of research. Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers generally live 2 to 5 years, he said. Before dying, they lose the ability to move their limbs, talk, swallow, and breathe on their own.

Their minds, however, remain fine. They know exactly what is happening to them.

At that point, he was in good physical shape. He kept active. His spirits were strong.

A couple of summers ago, Jim invited a group of old friends to his house on Lake Lillinonah. The setting was beautiful; the evening was fun. He was an animated tour guide as he piloted his boat across the water.

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Our next dinner was at Rizzuto’s. He wanted to come to Westport. He didn’t get out much, but he could still drive. He apologized for having to prop his head up from time to time. His muscles were already weakening. But he talked about today and tomorrow much more than yesterday.

As with all ALS sufferers, his decline was steady. His preferred method of communication became email. A few months ago, he wrote that he had always wanted enough time to read and listen to music. Now he had that time, but for the absolute worst reason.

This summer, Jim emailed me that at some point — not then; in the future — he would have to make a decision about living life as a quadriplegic, or not. He described that choice matter-of-factly. Right now, he said, he was doing fine.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim's Brookfield home.

Jim Conant, his son Dan and sister-in-law Joanne at Jim’s Brookfield home.

On Friday, I emailed Jim:

I hope things are going okay, and you’re able to enjoy your surroundings. Your comment about having time you always dreamed of to read and listen to music – but not the way you wanted to – really resonated with me. It made a profound impact. So please know that – long after our elementary school days – you continue to influence my life, in very positive ways. For that, I am very grateful.

I am thinking of you.

Coincidentally, early on Monday, I saw on Facebook that Jim’s birthday had been Saturday. I had no idea.

Two days late, I posted a generic greeting on his timeline. Dozens of others were already there.

Jim never saw those good wishes, from his many friends. He did not get my email, either.

On Monday afternoon, his brother Scott sent the news.

Jim died Friday night, at home. His sister, son and a good friend were there.

One day before his birthday.

(A reception for Jim Conant will be held tomorrow — Friday, September 19 — at 10 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 12 p.m., at the Brookfield Congregational Church. He requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS research clinic, the ALS Association, ASTDI or Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut.)

 

Qdoba, SHS And ALS

Qdoba — the new Mexican restaurant that will enliven/add to the traffic chaos of Playhouse Square — had a special pre-opening tonight.

Everything was on the house. Diners were asked to make a donation — 100% of which went to Staples High School athletics.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

Qdoba opens for real on Monday. From 5-9 p.m., pay whatever you want. 100% of the proceeds will go to the local ALS Association.

That’s a far better deal than pouring an ice bucket on your head.

Welcome to Westport, Qdoba.

And ¡muchas gracias!

Digging An ALS Challenge

You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.

But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:

Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.

He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!