By Kate Daly
Special to the Almanac
When Suzy Beugen Bishop ran track at Woodside High in the late 1970s she was so fast she went on to earn a full-ride scholarship to University of California, Los Angeles, and a spot as first alternate on the women's marathon team in the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Now, at 57, her once fleet feet take her in an ever-shrinking circle with a caregiver at her side as she deals with the eroding effects of losing her memory due to early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
After becoming a powerhouse movie producer in Hollywood, she settled down in San Carlos to raise a family, and then six or seven years ago her husband Randy noticed, "things were just off." On walks she complained "things were foggy," and she suffered from migraines.
He says, "She was a vegetarian who exercised like a fiend," with no family history of Alzheimer's.
When she was tested for the APOE4 gene that is associated with the disease, it wasn't found, but a brain scan in 2014 finally confirmed her diagnosis.
Back then, their son Braden was playing baseball at the University of Washington. He remembers being incredulous when he heard the news, because "that's an old person's disease."
The center fielder is now 23 and headed to spring training for the Seattle Mariners' farm team. He's also doing everything he can to increase awareness about Alzheimer's and support families and caregivers through the charity he founded, 4MOM.
He used to write that in black ink on his forearm to honor his mother on game days. Today, T-shirts and baseball caps carry the logo, as well as a new bracelet made by Rivet Revolution.
Ms. Bishop went to high school with Susan Evans of Portola Valley, who co-founded the jewelry startup with Liz Gindraux and Carol Palmer of Burlingame.
They chose a rivet to symbolize strength in their team of self-professed "Revolutionaries" in the fight to end Alzheimer's.
Ms. Evans' father has Alzheimer's and Ms. Gindraux's grandparents and mother had it. The women bonded when they found themselves commiserating over what Ms. Evans describes as "the hardest thing I had to do" -- put her father in a care facility.
Ms. Palmer lost a close family friend to the disease, the same person who got her hooked on making jewelry when she was a little girl.
Drawn together by their common experiences and backgrounds in marketing and the nonprofit world, the three women decided to design and sell customized beaded bands to serve as a reminder and conversation starter about the disease, and help raise money for groups involved in Alzheimer's research, awareness, and caregiver support.
With one out of every 10 Americans age 65 and older having Alzheimer's, Ms. Evans estimates that every patient directly affects four people.
"We needed to create a network so people don't feel so alone," she says.
Ms. Palmer is pleased to see that "people are taking the bands off their wrists and giving them to strangers ... We're really building momentum."
For 18 months the company has been operating out of a garage in Burlingame and selling more than a dozen different styles on its website, rivetrevolution.com. For each bracelet sold, $10 is donated to an organization. The bands sell for $38 apiece or $100 for three.
To date, the women have distributed more than $81,000 to Michaela "Mikey" Hoag's Part the Cloud, based on the Peninsula; Maria Shriver's Women's Alzheimer's Movement; Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen's Hilarity for Charity; the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia; and 4MOM.
Each organization has its own bracelet design, and there is a Classic Revolution collection to encourage mixing and matching colors and sizes. A small group of women in California makes the stretchy bands by hand using materials ranging from lapis lazuli to lava.
The 4MOM band is a unisex black onyx bracelet with sterling silver-plated brass tags saying "4MOM" and "End Alzheimer's." Hundreds of bands have sold so far, helping Braden's charitable fund exceed $30,000 in partnership with Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles, a connection he made through his sports agent.
Braden's main goal for his charity is "to put a high priority on education, on how caregivers shouldn't feel alone."
Since October, Ms. Bishop has had round-the-clock care four days a week, with her husband covering the rest.
"The caregivers have it the worst," her husband says, adding "and I've seen it all," referring to when he worked as a police detective in Los Angeles and Los Gatos.
Now another personal connection is leading Rivet Revolution to expand outside of e-commerce to retail sales. The wife of Braden's former baseball coach at Saint Francis High School just opened up the door to sell the bracelets at some 20 Bay Clubs statewide.
At a recent reception at the Redwood Shores Bay Club, the co-founders gathered dozens of fellow Revolutionaries, family and friends together to rally around the Bishops and launch the new venture.
Between the champagne, chatting and shopping, the event felt upbeat, like Braden. He says his mother may not be able to attend his games anymore, but she still knows who he is.
"She mixes my brother and me up; he's taller, but we're like twins," he says with a smile.
Hunter Bishop also plays center field. He is at Arizona State University and planning to pull together an Alzheimer's awareness game for their mom in the next few weeks.