At the age of 44, Donn Schmidt — a friend of We-Care.com — lost his battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that is highly progressive with no known cure. Approximately 5,600 people in the United States are disgnosed with ALS each year, leaving most with a prognosis of 2-5 years.

On June 6, in conjunction with Donn’s friends and family, We-Care.com is hosting the first annual Donn’s Dash 5K in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to benefit the ALS Association.

We had the opportunity to sit down with partner (and the driving force behind) Donn’s Dash — his daughter, Brianne Schmidt. Scroll down to learn more about her journey of loss and healing, and what made her found the charity race.

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We-Care.com: Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your connection to ALS.

Brianne Schmidt: My father, Donn Schmidt, was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease when I was in High School. It was the hardest news to get — especially because my father was the strongest man I knew and I was about to watch him grow weaker as his diagnosis progressed.

ALS is a motor-neuron disease that effects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. During my dad’s journey with ALS, he began to lose his ability to walk, talk and even breathe on his own. Although he lost his physical strength during his diagnosis, his mental strength and toughness was always there. He was determined to fight and throughout his battle, he took every day with a smile. My dad was a true inspiration and role model in my life.

WC: Where does the inspiration for Donn’s Dash come from?

BS: My family has ALWAYS been into sports. My mom ran Track, my dad played football, I played soccer and my sister swam. When I was in middle school, my mom and dad ran a full marathon in Philadelphia and that’s when I got the inspiration to take on running myself.

When my dad passed away, I always told myself I would start a run in his honor and now here I am today! But I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, friends and the entire Donn’s Dash committee who actually surprised me with the name and the route back in August.

WC: Do you feel there is adequate awareness around ALS? If not, what is the most important point to get across to a general public?

BS: If you would have asked me 2 years ago, I would say no. But this past August changed everything when the Ice Bucket Challenges went viral all over Social Media. The ALS community came together, and we were able to raise not only money towards finding a cure, but also awareness so that we could give ALS patients and their families the support they need.

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WC: What is the fondest memory that you have of your father?

BS: Do I have to pick just one?! Haha — this is a tough one! He was such a silly guy and always there to make me laugh — even when I was in the middle of a soccer game. If he saw me tired and angry and ready to give up, he would shout out the craziest things that would break me out of my mood and get me back on my feet.

I was so blessed to have him with me during my Senior Night of high school. Senior Night is when the school recognizes their senior athletes by announcing their name and letting the crowd know what lies in store for them during their next step towards becoming an adult. My dad was given only a few months to live prior to that night. We didn’t think he was going to be able to make it out on that field with me, but he did not give up.

That night, I was so full of joy and so very blessed to have him by my side as we walked out to the middle of that field, holding hands, crying with each other. That was my fondest moment. His determination and love for me shined that night and in that moment, I was so proud to call him my father.

WC: What has it been like to receive such an outpouring of support from your community?

BS: Words cannot explain how grateful I am to have the amount of support we have gotten. Everyone has been so generous and gracious and we are well on our way to reaching our goal of $11K already! We hope EVERYONE can make it out to Donn’s Dash on June 6th and that we continue to spread the word about this disease so that The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter can continue to offer their love and support to ALS patients and their families.

WHO: We-Care.com and Friends & Family of Donn Schmidt

WHAT: Donn’s Dash 5K — The NEPA Run For ALS

WHERE: Wilkes Barre, PA

WHEN: June 6, 2015 at 8:30 am

Learn more about Donn’s Dash here, and see a portion of whatever you spend online donated to the cause by shopping at any of our almost 3,000 online merchants here!

(Photos via Brianne Schmidt/Donn’s Dash)

Stephanie Sharlow is a Marketing Coordinator for We-Care.com, building relationships with media professionals to share the incredible stories of the 800+ nonprofits that We-Care.com supports. She has always been dedicated to giving back, even founding a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for suicide prevention and awareness based out of her alma mater in 2011. Stephanie is a Media Fellow graduate of DePauw University, and lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @StephSharlow.