by Larry Austin
Grand Island native Matthew Mondoux rode in a convertible in Monday's Independence Day parade, but the journey of his life begins Sunday when he walks 400 miles to New York City to raise money for Columbia University's ALS Research Center.
Mondoux will wear New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig's No. 4 for the entire 400 mile walk to raise awareness of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Inspired to raise money by a friend diagnosed with ALS, Mondoux will donate all funds raised to the research center at Columbia University, Gehrig's alma mater.
Since he started spreading the word about his trip, Mondoux has received support from many quarters. He took part in the parade in a convertible on loan from the Fuccillo Auto Mall, which helped him spread his message to the thousands of people along the parade route.
"The parade was great. I think it worked out well. I'm very appreciative of Fuccillo for donating a car for me to use for the parade," Mondoux said. "Seems like everyone's chipping in to help out."
Mondoux will begin his journey at about 3 a.m. Sunday from Veterans Park on Bedell Road. He anticipates arriving at Columbia in New York City around July 22, and he hopes to visit Yankee Stadium shortly after his arrival.
It's been 70 years since Gehrig died from the disease that bears his name. Mondoux has the same indomitable spirit as Gehrig, the Yankees first baseman who played 2,130 straight baseball games from 1923 to April 30, 1939, and earned the nickname the Iron Horse.
"Is it going to be painful in some areas? Yes. I know that, but I've accepted that," Mondoux said. "I'm bringing crutches with me just in case the last 100 miles I've got to go in crutches. The one thing that I want everyone to know is that I'm not going to quit. It's not in me. It's not a part of me, and I will finish. Bottom line, even if it takes me a couple days longer ... it's still going to happen."
Mondoux calls himself "just an ordinary person doing something extraordinary for a charity." He plans to return to work the following Wednesday, just days after the trip, "Hopefully if I'm not in a hospital somewhere," he said.
He hasn't trained for the event, other than his training from 11 years in the Army and his service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'm an infantryman by heart," Mondoux said. "Am I runner? No. I'm more ordinary than anyone. It's like you getting up right now and deciding to walk 400 miles."
He wants people to be a part of the trip, following his progress online at walking4lou.com, where they can also donate to the cause. Others inspired by his endeavor have gone further, like the couple in Dansville who have offered a place for him to stay on his journey, or the lady in Bath, the 11th member of her family with ALS, who wants to travel 14 miles with Mondoux in her motorized wheelchair.
"I want them to tell their story and be a part of it," Mondoux said. "The door is open for anyone to jump on board."
He said he hopes his "little wake-up call" inspires other ordinary people to consider similar extraordinary acts.
"So far this is working out so great. I couldn't have asked for anything better. It's already touching people."