A former Park Street Colliegiate Institute teacher says he has been “overwhelmed” with support during his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
In October, Bill Trayling was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he has since suffered a rapid physical decline.
While he, his spouse, Julia Colton, and children, Molly, 20, Mason, 19, and Weston, 12, have been meeting with doctors and health experts, the community has been rallying around the well-known paddling coach and athlete.
Three days ago, Trayling’s former neighbours, Heather Williams and Sarah Vurma, set up a GoFundMe account to help with the costs of retrofitting his home with wheelchair lifts and other renovations to improve accessibility.
They hope to raise $88,000 to also help him access “evidence-based treatments that are documented to help slow the progression” of the disease. More than $30,000 has been raised so far.
“They do call ALS the bankruptcy disease,” Williams said. “There are lots of pieces of equipment that can help him have some independence, but everything has a cost, and his main concern is leaving debt for people.”
ALS has no cure, notes ALS Canada. It “progressively paralyzes people because the brain is no longer able to communicate with the muscles of the body that we are typically able to move at will.”
Over time, as the muscles of the body break down, someone living with ALS will lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow and, eventually, breathe. About 1,000 Canadians are diagnosed with ALS each year and 80 per cent of them die within two to five years.
Williams says meeting the fundraising goal will help Trayling live as peacefully and comfortably as possible.
Williams and Vurma have also set up the Salute to Bill Trayling Facebook group, where former students, fellow athletes, friends, and family have posted their memories and photos of Trayling. The group has more than 450 members.
“People have posted photos of him when he was in high school, canoeing when he was much younger, and travelling the world,” Williams said. “You see parents talking about how much he helped their children, you see fellow competitors talking about how amazing he is, and it’s all been so uplifting for him.”
Sometimes when people are sick, they start to feel alone, which is why Williams and Vurma created the page.
“I think, through the power of social media, people don’t need to be alone,” Williams said. “I’m a believer in positive thought and being there for each other, and it warms my heart to be able to do this for him.”
Trayling, 60, says the community support has been “amazing.”
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
The Port Credit native considers himself an “Orillia boy” since moving to the area permanently in 2005. He has enjoyed being a part of the local community, teaching students, and coaching paddling.
“When I was a typical 13-year-old, rather than letting me get into trouble, my mother dragged me down to the Mississauga Canoe Club,” he recalled. “Everything I have and am today — a teacher, a coach — revolves around that.”
Until Trayling recently saw the Facebook group created to share memories and photos, he didn’t realize the effect he’d made on others.
“I’ve received so many notes and emails from former students and people I’ve coached,” he said. “I’ve had people say they wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for our relationship. These are all really good people who just needed someone to believe in them.”
Trayling says there are many in the world who need support, but he’s thankful people have chosen to support him. He also thanks Williams and Vurma for setting up the GoFundMe account and the Facebook group.
Colton says the community support has “literally helped to heal” her spouse.
“One of the big components with ALS is emotion,” she explained. “When he receives positive comments, it just buoys him so much. You can actually see a physical improvement in him while reading all of these comments and stories that people are posting.”