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After amyotrophic lateral sclerosis claimed her father, University of La Verne graduate student Marcella Marquez walks to make a difference in beating the rare disease.
Marcella Marquez is busier than most, working as a substitute teacher while pursuing a master’s degree in education at the University of La Verne. There is little spare time as she works toward her goal of becoming a full-time teacher.
But on Sunday, she will walk with others determined to defeat a disease that claimed her father when she was 9. The 10th Annual Inland Empire Walk to Defeat ALS will take place at the University of La Verne, and Marquez will be there. She is now a committee member who helps organize the event.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It struck Larry Marquez when his daughter, Marcella, was 9. He died at the age of 46.
As Marquez grew, so did her desire to keep her father’s memory alive. So in 2009, when she was a sophomore at the University of La Verne and an opportunity presented itself, she jumped at it.
As a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, she had several friends in the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, and she learned that the ALS Association Foundation was their official philanthropy project. She didn’t think twice about joining the cause.
“I thought this would be a great reason to talk about my dad and a reason to get my family together because of him,” Marquez said. “My involvement initially started off as a sentimental thing, but has progressed to my really wanting to raise money for the cause.”
The Lasting Memories
In 1997, Marcella was in the second grade and one day she received the biggest surprise of her young life. Her father picked her up from school in a new motor home.
“I was so excited that day,” Marquez said. “I felt so cool sitting in the back, doing my homework while he drove home.”
To a 7 year old, it was a cool new family vehicle they would use to go camping and to the beach in. But to her father, it was much more. It was a way he could help create happy childhood memories for his daughter to cherish forever.
Just a few months earlier, Larry Marquez had been diagnosed with ALS, and he was told that it would be only a matter of time until he could no longer drive, walk on his own, eat on his own or have functional control of his entire body.
ALS affects roughly two people per 100,000 per year. It is a relatively rare disease with no cure and victims typically live between two to five years after being diagnosed.
Larry Marquez worked as a psychiatric technician at Lanterman Development Center, a state hospital in Pomona, Calif. He was used to helping people for a living, so when the time came that he himself needed assistance from others, it was a life-altering experience.
“Near the end, I remember he couldn’t do anything on his own. He knew what he wanted, what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t express it,” Marquez said of her father. “It was difficult, because even as a kid I could see that inside he was fine.”
Larry Marquez passed away just more than two years after being diagnosed. Marcella, his only child, was 9.
“We knew the limited amount of time we had together so my family became very close back then,” Marcella said.
Keeping his memory alive
Every year, tens of thousands of dollars are raised in the Inland Empire alone through the annual Walk to Defeat ALS event, which as been hosted at the University of La Verne the past three years.
Since her first year of involvement, Marquez has gone from being captain of her own walk team to volunteering as a committee member for the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association, which covers Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
She is particularly excited about this year’s event. Not only has she invested her time in helping to organize the entertainment for the post-walk party, she has brought together both sides of her family and her sorority sisters to be a part of “Larry’s Little Wings” — the new name for the team that will walk in memory of her Dad.
“My dad loved Jimi Hendrix, so we decided to call ourselves ‘Larry’s Little Wings,’ named after Jimi’s song, ‘Little Wing,’’’ Marquez said.
Today, at the age of 24, Marquez says that she is in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people who can help in the effort of inspiring a community to take action on a disease that typically does not get enough publicity.
“People know that cancer is bad and that public support goes a long way But not as many people are aware of ALS and of its destructiveness,” she said. “By helping this cause, you are helping provide not just important research, but necessary care and equipment that helps victims live a quality life.”
Marquez said her goal is to simply help make a difference and to keep her father’s memory alive. It is safe to say, she is doing both very well.