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Woman with ALS completes Centennial Trail journey

Jenny Hoff rides her wheelchair on the Centennial Trail in Riverside State Park on Saturday. Hoff, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, said taking a long ride on the trail has been a dream of hers for years.  (Colin Mulvany)
Jenny Hoff rides her wheelchair on the Centennial Trail in Riverside State Park on Saturday. Hoff, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, said taking a long ride on the trail has been a dream of hers for years. (Colin Mulvany)

Jenny Hoff tackled a number of items on her bucket list Saturday – 37 to be exact. In miles.

Despite temperatures of nearly 80 degrees, Hoff, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, traversed a 37-mile stretch of Centennial Trail by electric wheelchair. With a hat, a support crew, and a sign announcing her mission, “Footprints with Jenny,” she journeyed from Nine Mile Falls to the state line.

“The trip is symbolic of my journey with Lou Gehrig’s disease. People I knew before have come out to support me. There was somebody with me every step of the way,” Hoff said.

The Footprints trip was not only an item to cross off her list of things to do before she dies. It was a fundraiser to help improve Hoff’s quality of life. Equipment to care for a patient with Lou Gehrig’s, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, usually costs about $200,000 per year, she said.

ALS is a progressive disease that affects motorneurons in the brain and spinal cord, and eventually leaves patients paralyzed. It is fatal.

Hoff was diagnosed with ALS in 2006 at age 47. Around that time, she moved to Millwood. Some of the children in her neighborhood learned of her debilitating illness and visited her daily to help with chores and hang out.

“I paid them in red licorice,” Hoff said. “We became good buddies.”

One summer, with the help of friends, she gave the children bicycles. Every day, Jenny rode in her chair and the children biked down Centennial Trail. The farthest they traveled was about 16 miles round trip, she said. At the time, they talked about making a longer trip, which seemed to Hoff to be a “pipe dream.”

“It stuck with me. It’s been a part of my bucket list since then,” she said.

She recently moved four blocks away, but she still keeps in contact with the children, who are now in their teens.

Hoff was joined along the way by her brother, her caregiver, and her cousin, Patty Shannon, among others.

“We came from Seattle to visit Jenny,” Shannon said. Even though the trek took Hoff longer than expected because of difficulties with her wheelchair, Shannon told her to enjoy the trip and those meeting up with her at different parts.

“I’m fortunate I have a good support system. My circle of friends has a lot of good people,” Hoff said. “They support me in my crazy endeavors.”

During the journey, Hoff rotated wheelchairs to keep batteries fresh. American Seating and Mobility traveled with her and kept her moving. The chairs’ top speed is 5 mph, she said. She began at 9 a.m. and finished her route around 9:30 p.m.

As for the other items on Hoff’s bucket list, there are more trips. She said she may choose to travel another portion of Centennial Trail, and she considered a trek down the Route of the Hiawatha, near the Montana-Idaho border. Her ultimate bucket list item is to see the Grand Canyon.

Through this trip and others, Hoff hopes to show other Lou Gehrig’s patients that it’s possible to get out and be active, and it’s OK to accept help.

“More people need to know it’s more of a disability-friendly world than most think,” she said.



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