I was a sophomore at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) when my principal, Dr. Eric McLaren, was diagnosed with ALS/MND. His horrific diagnosis was revealed to IMSA one night through a short video he provided. The day after watching this video, I met with him and had to go back! I soon began visiting Dr. McLaren every day. We discussed classes, my ALS/MND work, family, food and more. My heart wept as I watched the disease tear apart my friend’s body each day, but I felt his courage as he put his heart into IMSA, the school he deeply loved. When Dr. McLaren was hospitalized during his visit to New York my junior year, I was paralyzed with fear. When he was hospitalized even longer a few months later with a collapsed lung and pneumonia, I cried and worried about him. I sent him hilarious letters, his favorite Bugs Bunny stuffed animal, pictures, and videos. I called to make sure he was okay and visited him when I could. I emailed him each day to tell him my embarrassing stories, show him videos, update him on my ALS/MND work, and wish him a FABULOUS day. I wanted Dr. McLaren to be happy. I wanted to show him that as he battled the disease day after day with incredible courage, I would always be supporting him.
In May of 2011, I began training for the Chicago Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon that was to be held during that coming August. I was running the race to honor Dr. McLaren and to raise money for ALS/MND research. The summer went by smoothly. I trained hard and raised a truckload of money for the Chicago ALS Association. Unfortunately, I twisted my foot two days before the half marathon. It was very discolored and swollen. I was in so much pain and could barely walk. But as I wrapped my injured foot with tape the morning of the half marathon, I thought to myself, if Dr. McLaren can give absolutely everything he has to IMSA, his friends, and family, then I can run 13.1 miles for him. It was a great morning to run, but I was nearly in tears from pain less than 5 minutes after crossing the starting line. I had almost 13 torturous miles ahead of me and I soon began thinking I would not be able to finish. The swelling was getting worse and the numbing pain was snaking up my leg. By the time mile 7 rolled around, I was more limping than running. But then all of a sudden, I heard from behind me, “SARAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” I turned around to find Dr. McLaren RUNNING through the crowd to me! He could barely run due to the disease, but I soon found him at my side. He looked down at me.
“How are you doing, Sarah?”
“I’m in so much p-p-p-pain. I can’t do this!”
“It’s okay, Sarah. You can do this. Keep going. Don’t give up.”
After running a few hundred meters beside me, Dr. McLaren veered off the course and I continued running. I did not stop and pushed the pain to the back of my mind. I put one foot in front of the other and finished my first half marathon – for Dr. McLaren and every individual who has suffered from ALS/MND.
Dr. Eric McLaren lost his battle with ALS/MND on June 6th, 2014.
He meant the world to me. Even though Dr. McLaren could not speak to me or even smile, I still felt like the luckiest person in the world every time I was at his side. Dr. McLaren was an amazing principal, teacher, and friend.
Dr. McLaren, I will never give up fighting to end ALS/MND. Even though you are gone, you will always have a special place in my heart. I will help defeat this disease once and for all – for you. RIP. Love you forever and ever.