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Stan the marathon man

Retired Durango teacher battling early-onset Alzheimer’s

It’s not stretching the truth to say that Stan Rabbe has run around the world.

He’s run marathons on each continent – yes, even Antarctica – and the retired teacher has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp.

The guy’s gotten around. And that’s one reason Saturday’s event in his honor is so bittersweet.

Rabbe, now 64, was diagnosed in 2011 with frontal temporal dementia. Ensuing exams showed he has Alzheimer’s disease. It means he can’t travel around so much anymore.

This weekend, friends, family, former students and strangers will gather in the Three Springs area to run or walk 5 kilometers. Proceeds from the event, which also will include a silent auction, will benefit local Alzheimer’s education programs and support groups.

Dubbed the Stan the Marathon Man’s Alzheimer’s 5K, the run/walk is being held at Three Springs because Rabbe now lives at the Cottonwood Inn, a new rehabilitation and long-term care center there.

“Stan knows so many people in town,” says his wife, Paula Lutz. “I hope people show up in support of him.”

To borrow a running term, this event has legs. Thanks to the efforts of Dorothy Rabbe and Pam Stahl, Stan’s mother and sister, respectively, folks in tiny Sutton, Nebraska, and around the country will also hoof it Saturday for the cause.

Stan Rabbe grew up on a farm in Sutton, population 1,500, in south-central Nebraska. He was a Sutton Mustangs sports star, in a town that celebrates its athletes, Dorothy Rabbe said in a recent phone interview. He was also very likeable, and that hasn’t changed, she noticed in a recent visit to Durango.

“Everybody clapped him on the back and said, ‘Hi Stan,’” in high school, Dorothy Rabbe said. “The same thing happened at Cottonwood. ... They’re just like family there.”

Mother and sister have organized a 1-mile walk in Sutton, to be held concurrently with the Durango event. Stahl has been working on contacting her brother’s 51-person Sutton High graduating class by email. The graduates are as far-flung as New York and New Jersey.

“They don’t have to come here,” Dorothy Rabbe said. “They can run in place on September 13th.”

Dorothy Rabbe said many people in Sutton still remember her son, and Stan Rabbe has certainly left a mark in Durango in his three decades here.

In 1983, he went to work at Miller Middle School, where he taught math and coached the girls and boys basketball teams. Later, he became a counselor at Miller, and that’s also what he did at Durango High School until he retired in 2002.

He had started cycling (and riding the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic) when he moved to Durango. At the coaxing of Lutz, he adapted to running in 2002, training with her for marathons. In 2009, they completed their final two continents: Antarctica and Oceania (Australia/New Zealand).

Even before the completion of the seven continents, they knew something wasn’t quite right with Rabbe. Although he was still very rational and logical, he started having trouble with numbers and certain motor skills. For instance, one day he couldn’t use a hammer.

“At some point, you realize it’s not just old age,” Lutz said. “It’s something else going on.”

Rabbe was 59 when he first was found to have “mild cognitive impairment” during a full workup at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. Further tests found dementia, and he was cautioned not to drive.

“It just turns your whole world upside-down,” Lutz said.

She praised Rabbe for not being stubborn and resisting the diagnosis, as many people do. He’s been proactive and helpful. When the doctor told him it was time to stop driving, he understood.

“Stan said, ‘I’m not going to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt,’” Lutz said. “So he gave me his keys.”

For an 86-year-old mother, it’s not easy.

“Some days, I’m just fine, and some days I have to cry all day long,” Dorothy Rabbe said. “It just pulls on your heart strings.”

For several years, Lutz managed to take care of Rabbe at their home. She pulled it off with the help of Shining Star Caregivers, a local home-health provider. But she became worried that he would go for a run or bike ride and wander off.

Also, the stress was taking its toll on her. Caregivers not only have the full-time job of looking after loved ones, but at the same time have to manage paying bills, doing chores, making appointments and more. In March, Rabbe moved into Cottonwood Inn.

“It’s very, very hard to deal with at home,” said Elaine Stumpo, executive director of the local Alzheimer’s Association office, which serves nine counties. Stumpo facilitates nine group meetings for those with Alzheimer’s and for caregivers.

Hundreds of families in the area deal with Alzheimer’s. Although it mostly affects those 70 and older, about 5 percent are younger than 65 and have what’s called “early onset.”

Money raised during the event will help the local association run programs for caregivers and patients. Lutz attends most meetings for caregivers and finds them extremely helpful. Between 10 and 20 people usually show up.

“We share a lot of what we’re all going through ... what we can expect as it progresses. It’s so different for everyone,” she said. “That’s the help we can’t get anywhere else.”

Rabbe kept a stiff upper lip during an interview at Cottonwood that included Lutz, Stumpo and Casie Hanson, the facility’s recreational director. He joked and joined in the conversation. But he’s at a stage where he knows what’s happening to him, and that’s tough to deal with.

“When you get tired, it’s worse,” he said.

But those around him are impressed by what Rabbe can do. Hanson said he’s a challenging patient because he always needs exercise. For Father’s Day, Lutz had a spin bike delivered to her husband’s room at Cottonwood Inn.

“I couldn’t get him off the bike,” Lutz said.

It’s not easy being the poster child for a scary disease. But for the sake of bringing attention to it, and to help both patients and caregivers struggling with it, Rabbe agreed to put his name and face on the fundraising run. Come Saturday, with the companionship of friends, family and the group that paced him to the finish of the Leadville 100 trail run in 2008, Rabbe plans to complete the 5K.

“I think he’s been incredibly brave and courageous to let this run focus on him,” Lutz said. “I just commend him so much.”

johnp@durangoherald.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

Event information

The Stan the Marathon Man’s Alzheimer’s 5K run/walk will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Cottonwood Inn, 450 Prospector Drive, in Three Springs. Packet pickup begins at 7:30 a.m., and day-of registration will begin at 8 a.m. The event is in honor of Stan Rabbe and other athletes with Alzheimer’s disease.

Preregister at www.imathlete.com. Search for “Stan the Marathon” or something similar. Registration fee is $25.

A silent auction will be held at the event, and random prizes will be awarded. The silent auction acrylic painting “Bakers Bridge” by Karyn Gabaldon can be previewed at Jean-Pierre Bakery. Proceeds from the event will stay local and help support those who have Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Prizes will go to the first male and first female finishers. Music will be provided by Dale Garland’s Aiko Aiko Sound.

Directions: From U.S. Highway 160, take Three Springs Boulevard north, and take a right at the first roundabout. Take the second right at the second roundabout. Park along these roads. Continue to the start line on foot by going to Mercado Street, taking a right and following it to the end; take a right on Prospector Drive and you’ll come to Cottonwood Inn and the start/finish.

For more information about the event, contact Paula Lutz at (970) 259-4395 or paula@durango.net.

For more information about Alzheimer’s, visit www.alz.org/Co.

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