Andrea Lytle Peet '03 needed to do something to relieve stress. It started with an 8K race, followed by a full marathon, then five triathlons; and then, everything changed.
"In 2013 I worked up to a half iron man triathlon, but after that race my hamstrings were really tight and I was tripping over my toes," Peet said. "I went to a physical therapist thinking I had a race injury, and she said your muscles just don't seem strong enough for someone who just did that kind of race."
Eight months and five neurologists later, Peet was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
ALS moves fast. The brain loses the ability to communicate with the muscles. The muscles atrophy. Most people with ALS die within two to five years. Their minds stay fully intact, as they lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow and, eventually, breathe.
In a recent piece for the Davidsonian, Peet wrote:
"ALS is a 'rare' disease in that there are only 30,000 people living with it in the United States at any one time. But that's because we die out so quick. The better statistic to remember is that every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS and someone else dies.
"Thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge there's more money in research, but it's difficult to make progress in such a highly variable disease (pre-med students, we need you!)."
Peet hopes to advance that progress by raising awareness and funds for ALS research.
"In 2015, Andrea encouraged her friends and family to take on a race that represented a challenge to them and use it as an opportunity to raise money for ALS research," said classmate and Team Drea member Shaw Hipsher '03. "Team Drea has now grown to more than 150 athletes in 22 states, Canada and the U.K., and has raised more than $150,000 for ALS research."
Nearly 100 Davidson alumni have joined Team Drea or provided financial support.
On May 6, some of them will be in Davidson with Peet to participate in the Spartan Half Marathon & 5K as part of the Town Day celebration. All are welcome to join Team Drea for a $50 donation. A brunch will be held following the race in the Summit Outpost.
Team Drea will be visible at the May 6 race, wearing lime green shirts bearing the number 179.
There's a story behind that number. Peet, a self-professed "band geek," was a pretty good French horn player, coming in first in a middle school state competition with a score of 179 out of 200.
"The same year, my parents bought me a brand new horn made by Holton Farkas, model 179," she wrote in a piece published after the 2014 Ramblin Rose marathon. "From that point on, 179 became my lucky number."
It was someone else's number, too–in 2005, Jon "Blazeman" Blais became the first and only person with ALS to complete a full ironman. The race took place five months after Blais was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 33, Peet's age at diagnosis.
In honor of Blais' feat, the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) reserved the number for athletes racing for a charity, often ALS.
Just as Blais' very public, courageous act focused attention on the disease from people all over the world, so has Peet's activism.
Through her blog, social media and annual race schedule, Peet rallies people who are otherwise unconnected around a common cause.
"People are inspired by Andrea," Hipsher said. "In the face of such a devastating diagnosis, she and Dave [Peet's spouse] immediately turned to hope, and that's where they focus–on hope."
Find more information on the Team Drea Foundation Facebook page, or at teamdrea.org.