ALS Ride for Life founder recognized pregame

Nats commemorated 20th anniversary of organization

ALS Ride for Life founder recognized pregame

WASHINGTON -- To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Chris Pendergast's first Ride for Life, he is retracing the journey this year, riding from New York to D.C. primarily in his electric wheelchair to help raise awareness for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

He made a brief pit stop at Nationals Park to be honored during the pregame ceremony before Saturday night's game against the Phillies.

"It's only a natural forum for Major League Baseball," his wife, Christine, said. "And we're happy that the Nationals have allowed us another opportunity to promote the awareness for ALS tonight."

Recently, the Ride for Life has been a journey across the Long Island metropolitan area, but Pendergast wanted to return to its original form for this anniversary. So the Pendergasts -- along with a group of 10 volunteers and one other ALS patient -- have begun a 10-day trek from Long Island that will end at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday. And the past nine days have certainly not been easy.

The rain that washed away consecutive games for the Nationals caused even greater problems for the group crossing the George Washington Bridge. Heavy rains took out the electronics on the power chairs and ventilators, although they had backup support to eventually continue the journey. But when Pendergast did his first ride in 1998, he knew it would not be easy.

"ALS was so unknown [in '98] that he didn't want to do a ride in a park somewhere, he wanted it to be visible," Christine said. "So he rode the highways and byways literally for his life. Thus the name 'Ride for Life.'"

Throughout the years, the Ride for Life has raised more than $7 million for patient services and research about ALS, which affects more than 30,000 Americans and takes more than 6,000 lives in the U.S. every year.

But Christine says she could have never imagined what the Ride for Life would have grown into 20 years ago. Especially considering most people with ALS do not live this long.

"There are many ALS patients wishing that they could be out here with him, but it's just too demanding," she said. "And we do that for them, and we do that for all of the patients who have passed away, and we hope that in the near future there won't be many families that need to receive that diagnosis of ALS."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.