JOINT BASE LANGLEY-Eustis, Va. –
As John Musser stands to his feet, he looks around the room and begins pointing out images of his wife Robin of more than 20 years. A smile starts to creep on his face as he grabs the images and recalls the day they were captured.
After 10 minutes of reliving their youthful past, he sits, takes a deep breath and says, “Where do you want to begin?”
Musser started the story in 2009 when he explained how he began to notice his wife having memory issues with minor things she wanted to tell him, and it progressed as months went on.
“We started to notice she was forgetting things more frequently, so we decided to go to the doctor,” Musser said. “It took several appointments before we were able to get all of her cognitive tests completed. The doctors noticed her cognition wasn’t normal, but they had nothing to compare it to.”
Once the Mussers returned home, they downloaded a puzzle game to help Robin exercise and stimulate portions of her brain.
As time went on, her memory got worse. Musser explained she wouldn’t remember names, where she left things and occasionally got lost while driving places she frequently visited.
In 2014 after receiving another cognitive test, the doctors noticed a significant decline since 2009. Due to previous head injuries and suffering from post-traumatic stress, they recommended psychology.
According to Musser, Alzheimer’s was not the number one diagnosis the medical community was shooting for, especially for someone at 52.
Musser began assisting his wife in more ways, such as getting gas and helping her read and write. He recalled one moment in particular that stood out because of his wife’s love for motorcycles.
“We use to ride Harleys together,” he said. “We got the bikes out for the first time that year and we went to leave the driveway and she couldn’t get her feet off the ground. I immediately stopped her and told her to shut the motorcycle off and she couldn’t figure out how to shut it off.”
A short time later, in December of 2018, his wife was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
According to the National Institute of Aging, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly degrades memory and thinking skills; eventually, hindering the ability to carry out simple tasks.
Since the diagnosis, Musser has been doing things to raise awareness for the deadly disease. On the longest calendar day of this year, June 21, he plans to row 24 hours straight to show his appreciation to the caregivers who dedicate their lives to Alzheimer’s patients.
“When we first received the diagnosis, it felt like I was just told we have to ruck across the United States, and the ruck was the diagnosis,” Musser said with tears in his eyes. “From here to Shenandoah isn’t much trouble, but that’s about as far as we have gone. The further we go, the more I have to take out of her ruck to put into mine, and I know there is going to be a point where I have to pick her up on my shoulders and carry her across the Rockies and I don’t know if I can do it. But I know that’s what’s on my shoulders, and that’s my intent.”
He went on to say the 24-hour row is a microcosm of that journey.
“I have no idea how it’s going to end, but I know what I’m trying to do, and I know who I’m doing it for,” he said. “Unlike a lot of other terminal illnesses, dementia actually becomes easier on the person that has it and much more difficult for the person providing the care.”
Musser touched on how it can be frustrating at times, but he never loses sight of the task at hand.
“My purpose in life is not me; it’s the difference I make in the world around me,” he said. “So in those moments (that) I’m frustrated, I realize it’s because I’m impacted, but then I realize my purpose and calm myself.”
Musser will attempt to row 24 hours straight, starting June 21 at 10 a.m. and ending June 22 at 10 a.m. He will be doing the rowing at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Yorktown, Virginia.
According to Musser, he is on pace to break the world record for the 24-hour row for his age group.
“I wanted to dedicate this to the caregivers not because I am one, but because as one, I know the struggle,” he said.
Robin is now 56-years-old and still lives at home. John, an Army Veteran, still works for the military at Felker Army Airfield on Fort Eustis, and continues to care for Robin along with family members.