Rain and overcast skies on Sunday could not stop Team KJ from helping to brighten the lives of local families who have been struck by Huntington’s Disease.
Thirty people competed in the West Point Triathlon Sunday morning and more than 200 people attended an indoor barbecue in the afternoon at the Pearl River Elks Club in Nanuet to raise money for the cause. The event raised $15,000, according to Team KJ President Jennifer Dunne.
Team KJ was formed more than six years ago to raise funds for Kara Jean Fleming, a 39-year-old Pearl River resident who is suffering from Huntington’s. The hereditary disease strikes a victim’s brain and eventually robs them of the ability to speak, their motor functions and cognitive abilities. Ms. Fleming lost her father, former New York City Fire Captain Denis P. Fleming, to the same disease.
Michael Fleming, Kara Jean’s brother and a Team KJ board member, said the event shows the amount of community spirit in Pearl River.
“[It] symbolizes all the best things in the Pearl River community. It has grown into a family event that has great meaning behind it. My family has been stricken with a horrific disease and it is nice to know there are people in the community rallying behind families in need, ” he said.
“For my sister Kara Jean, it brings so much joy to her face every time she hears about Team KJ. I am proud of Pearl River and the friends and family that help.”
Team KJ is made up entirely of volunteers, including former New York Yankee catcher and West Nyack resident John Flaherty, who covered Sunday’s event for the YES Network, and Pearl River residents Mike and Danny Sullivan whose father, Mickey, has suffered from Huntington’s for more than 15 years.
“It is hard to put into words how much the support of the community means to us,” Mike Sullivan said. “All the money we take in goes back into the Huntington Disease community. Over the past year or two we have probably raised between $75,000 and $100,000.”
Danny Sullivan said Team KJ members have bestowed his family with their generosity and several small acts of kindness over the years.
“A lot people in this room do things for my father’s well being. From offering him a car ride to helping him walk across the street on Middletown Road. The support structure in the community is overwhelming,” he said.
Mike Bosco, another Team KJ member who participated in the triathlon, echoed the same sentiment as the Sullivans.
“We would like people to understand and be a little more aware of the disease and what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “We all race for Kara because she can’t.”
Team KJ has raised $400,000 since it’s inception. Dunne, the group’s president, works closely with the University of California at Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. Led by Jan Nolta, Ph. D., the group is doing groundbreaking work in stem cell research.
Fundraisers like the triathlon and barbecue will raise money to help Nolta’s group in its research.
“It is a big thing, our partnership with Dr. Nolta. In three years we have contributed $40,000 to the UC Davis program,” Dunne said. “We are now seeing the first drug that she is developing for Huntington’s Disease. It’s just awesome.”
Orangetown Councilman Tom Diviny, who serves as legal counsel for Team KJ and was several grades ahead of Kara Jean at Pearl River High School, said he is hopeful that there will be a cure for the disease.
“In the pouring rain everyone showed up in less than ideal conditions because they believe in what we are doing and that we will have a cure for Huntington’s in the near future,” he said.
“There is real hope for progress.”
For additional information on Huntington’s Disease or to make a donation go to the Team KJ web site www.FightHD.org