While serving as principal of Elizabethton’s East Side Elementary School, Wandell was diagnosed at age 34 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in June 2013. His initial life expectancy was three to five years.
ALS is a degenerative neurological condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the Hall of Fame baseball player who died from it in 1941. It progressively damages nerve cells that control such voluntary muscle movements as chewing, walking and talking. There is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment to halt or reverse its progression.
Since he stepped down from his East Side leadership in 2105, Wandell’s condition has reached the point where he requires a wheelchair, breathing assistance and an eye gaze device to communicate.
But that hasn’t stopped Wandell from continuing his mission of spreading awareness about ALS and inspiring others in their own challenges. As Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson reported in April, Wandell was back in Elizabethton’s schools to motivate students in their annual standardized tests.
“You're going to face obstacles for your test as well,” Wandell told students at West Side Elementary School. “You might not feel 100 percent one day. You might come across a question you're not sure which answer is best. This is when you trust your training you've been doing since August. You have prepared for this test for many months and your hard work will pay off.”
His visit was just one of the many public appearances Wandell has managed throughout his illness with his “Faith over Fear” message. His supporters have also organized events and athletic contests to promote his cause, coming together as “Team Wandell.”
Nothing illustrates Wandell’s determination more than when he literally joins his team on the road. The team pushes Wandell’s wheelchair through races, including a Guinness World Record-setting effort on March 17 for the fastest time by a wheelchair contestant in a half marathon.
Wandell won’t be racing Saturday morning, though, during the sixth-annual Race for Wandell, a state-certified 3K event that supporters developed to help with his medical expenses. He will be at East Side to see his friends and other competitors run and walk in the contest that bears his name.
To label his presence inspiration would be a vast understatement. Few will face such an overwhelming challenge at such a young age, and that’s why Wandell’s story is important to all of us. Our everyday worries pale in comparison, and Wandell reminds us to live in perspective.
The race begins at 10, going from from the school to downtown, crossing the Doe River on the Covered Bridge and then returning to the school. The entry fee is $30 and the fun run is $25. Registration can be made online (https://runsignup.com/Race/Register/?raceId=37174) or on race day.
We’re sure Wandell would love to see you there — running, walking or just cheering on others.