In 1993, doctors told him he had two or three years to live. But the ALS-fighter Chris Pendergast, Sc.D., defied the odds for nearly 30 years. He died at the age of 71 on Oct. 14, 2020 — 27 years and one day after his diagnosis.
Pendergast created the nonprofit organization ALS Ride for Life in 1997, when he led his first ride from Yankee Stadium to Washington, D.C. — a 15-day journey across 305 miles — in order to raise awareness and funds for a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive, fatal neuromuscular disease that affects voluntary muscles.
Each year after, for 22 years, Pendergast rode from Montauk to Manhattan across the span of 12 days in May. He was met along the way by students he inspired during annual school visits. St. Jospeh’s College students, faculty and staff were honored to join him on this walk for about 20 years.
“Chris was a remarkable person who touched the lives of so many people,” said St. Joseph’s College Associate Dean, and Professor and Chair of Recreation Studies Gail Lamberta, Ph.D., who, along with the Recreation Clubs at SJC Brooklyn and SJC Long Island, led the College’s participation in the annual events.
“It was an honor and privilege to know Chris personally and through the Ride’s involvement at SJC,” Dr. Lamberta continued. “His kindness, deep desire to help others — and words of encouragement through his many presentations at both of our campuses — have had a profound effect on the SJC community.”
A Fighter Through and Through
Across the span of 23 years and 23 rides — including a virtual one this year, as not even a pandemic could stop them — Pendergast and the Ride for Life team raised more than $10 million toward research for a cure for ALS, patient services and education about the disease.
“In spite of the incredible challenges he faced since his diagnosis, Chris made the choice to raise awareness and funds for research, patient services and support, and advocated for a cure through the ALS Ride for Life,” Dr. Lamberta said. “Throughout his battle with ALS, Chris never stopped and always lived by his mantra, ‘Never give up. Never lose hope. Always remain optimistic. And be willing to defy the odds.’
“Chris will be sorely missed,” Dr. Lamberta added. “Rest in peace, my friend; your legacy will live on for decades to come.”
A dedicated man who wanted to make a difference, Pendergast, who lived in Miller Place, worked as an elementary school teacher in Northport from 1970 until his retirement in 2003 — 10 years after his diagnosis. In May, he and his wife Christine published the book “Blink Spoken Here: Tales from a Journey to Within,” which tells the story of his struggles and strength.
“In many ways, ALS has made my life richer and more fulfilled. It has certainly made me a better man,” Pendergast said, with the help of his former colleague Glenn Baldwin, during his November 2016 visit to SJC Long Island. “Rather than a curse from God, it has been a blessing in disguise.”
Pendergast is survived by his wife wife Christine, his daughter Melissa Scriven, his son Buddy and his grandson Patrick Scali.