A pair of unlikely friends who met on an Alzheimer Society remembrance walk have gathered for the first time to cut the ribbon at this year’s event.
Car retailer Ryan Harkness is the same age as former teacher Denise Morgan’s daughter, but they hit it off after Denise greeted Ryan at the finish line at the 2019 fundraiser.
It was an emotional moment for Ryan, the man from Carrickfergus, who had lost his grandmother Annie Crossett to dementia a year before.
Ryan told Denise about her specific reason for doing the memory walk and they bonded immediately.
“Every time I did Memory Walk, I never thought I would make a friendship out of it. But when I told Denise about my grandmother, she just got it and she said ‘You made her very proud, Ryan,’ “he said.
Ryan and Denise went online after the event and have stayed in touch for the months to come, sharing messages about Ryan’s grandmother and her journey of dementia.
They’ve always wanted to get together over coffee but, like so many things, the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.
The couple were finally able to meet again in real life on Saturday, during the Alzheimer’s Society Memorial Walk, where they were invited to cut the ribbon by Bernadine McCrory, the charity’s national director for Ireland North.
“It was so important for me to do the Remembrance Walk for my Grandma,” Ryan said.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t want her to be there, but I can keep her memory alive – and if there is one thing I can do to prevent other people from going through what our family has been through, to help. finding a cure, not tomorrow but down the line, if I can help stop this disease, I will.
“I know my grandmother would like me to do this. She was a wonderful woman. She always said ‘If you want something in life, go get it, and if you see someone in trouble in life, help them get up’.
Denise Morgan of Crossgar, who works in education, shares a similar point of view to Ryan, which may be why they get along so well.
“The 2019 event was my first time volunteering for the Alzheimer Society. Dementia is such a cruel disease and I think that’s what prompted me to lend my support.
“Ryan was the first person to cross the finish line on the memory walk and I made sure we got his picture.
“Sometimes you just feel like someone wants to talk and we had a really good conversation that day and kept in touch through Facebook Messenger.
“We probably would never have met without the Memory Walk.
“It was fantastic to meet up in real life and cheer him on at this year’s event.”
Denise and Ryan joined 850 people who united against dementia on the Belfast Memory Walk for the charity’s flagship walk to Stormont Estate on Saturday 25 September.
And after cutting the ribbon, Ryan was able to set off on the 6km course, while Denise had a busy day helping this year’s walkers.
Bernadine McCrory, Alzheimer’s Society National Director for Northern Ireland, said: “I was really touched to hear the story of Denise and Ryan meeting and they were the perfect people to open the event. of this year.
“We are in awe of our amazing fundraisers, like Ryan, who has gone in the hundreds to support the 22,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland.
“And we also have the most amazing team of volunteers like Denise and without their support fundraising events like this just wouldn’t be possible.
“It was extremely moving to see so many people coming together to honor or remember their loved ones on Saturday.
“The pandemic has been catastrophic for people with dementia, with Alzheimer Society services being used more than six million times since the lockdown began in March 2020.
“Every book raised through Stormont’s Memory Walk will help the Alzheimer Society provide information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people with dementia.
“I would like to warmly thank everyone who helped make this year’s Memory Walk such a brilliant success.
Visit memorywalk.org.uk to learn more about other Remembrance Walk events or to organize your own Remembrance Walk at a location and time of your choice.