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How This Man with ALS Made History and Deepened His Faith Crossing the Atlantic


Overcoming Despair

Alderman understands poignantly that living the gospel doesn’t mean we won’t experience mental, physical, and emotional pain. “Even having the most solid testimony of the gospel does not alleviate the physical pain, does not alleviate the emotional pain of life. But it will help us understand it, and it will help you to better navigate those things,” he says.

In 2009, eight years after being diagnosed with ALS, Alderman experienced a family change that made ALS seem like “a walk in the park compared to the heartache that I felt then,” Alderman says.

At moments, Alderman wished his ALS had progressed at a normal pace—that way he would not need to be alive to experience this new, bone-deep suffering.

“I spent a year and a half in therapy. I spent countless hours on my knees,” he says. Anger and bitterness came back into his life. But then he shares, “After months of pouring my heart out to my Father in Heaven, finally some peace came.” Alderman described a night when he was on his knees sobbing and pleading to God, and he received a call from his daughter, whose room was directly beneath his.

“Dad, are you okay?” she asked.

“I said, ‘I am good. My Father in Heaven and I are just having a little bit of a heart-to-heart,” Alderman remembers. “Thanks for worrying about me. I love you. Goodnight.”

Alan Alderman with his daughters, who he feels are blessings from his Heavenly FatherIt was moments like these that sustained Alderman. At first the peace he felt came in fitful bursts or at unpredictable moments. But gradually, the peace lengthened until it began to fill his whole life.

“I don't know if you have ever had one [of those heart-to-hearts with God],” Alderman says. “One part of me says I hope not and then the other part of me says they are so good that I hope that you have, but when you are on your knees, pouring out your heart, sobbing to a loving Father in Heaven, and after you are there for a while, the peace and calm comes.”

He continues, “One day, with all that I was doing to try to heal, the Atonement took over and that peace and that calm stayed. . . . I learned then that the Atonement is a wonderful and almost incomprehensible thing for us as humans to understand.”

Finishing the Race

On February 1, 2019, the Row4ALS crew spotted land on the horizon. “That was exhilarating and exciting, but also a little bit trepidatious or fearful,” Alderman says. “We did not want it to end. I relate the whole experience to serving on my mission. Early on, you wonder what you are doing out there and you sometimes wonder why you came and you want it to be over. But then when the end of your mission is in sight, you don’t want it to ever end. You are a little nervous about what coming home will bring.”

Just as there is a singularity in purpose that comes with serving a mission, Alderman knew he would miss the simplicity of rowing across the Atlantic.

When all was said and done, Row4ALS crossed the ocean in 51 days, 11 hours, and 57 minutes, and Alan Alderman made history by becoming the first man with ALS to row across the ocean.

In total, the crew lost a combined weight of 140 pounds. It took a while for the crew to regain their land legs and even longer for the men to adjust to large crowds. Having spent 51 days with only four other people, noise, parties, gatherings, and even church made Alderman feel anxious.

While the row changed Alderman physically and mentally, he also gained a new spiritual focus. The second day on land, Alderman was with his girlfriend watching the boats come into the harbor and listening to the birds chirp when suddenly tears traced down his face.

He explains, “I had not heard the birds sing for nearly two months, and that sound made me weep. . . .  The row helped me gain a greater appreciation for the beauty of all of our Father in Heaven’s creations. . . . The wildlife on the water, the sunrises and the sunsets, birds singing, the rainbows. Our Father in Heaven is wise, is loving, and I am much more aware of the beauty of this world and everything in it.”

The Row4ALS team on the Atlantic Ocean

He continues: “The row changed me. . . . It really helped me understand what I already knew, that life is a gift and that it is the simple things in life that really make a difference: the beauty of the world, our family and friends, the gospel—those are the important things. If you strip away all of the noise and all of the distractions our modern world has to offer and when we get back to the simple basics of life, then we are happier, we are more at ease or at peace, and we are able to be closer to our Father in Heaven.”

When asked if he would do the row again, Alderman says, “In a heartbeat.” But Alderman also knows this isn’t the end of Row4ALS. The team attracted international coverage during their journey, and Alderman knows, “There are a lot of other oceans we need to row and a lot of activities we need to do, so we will continue to raise awareness and to raise money.”

The Row4ALS team after they finished the Atlantic Challenge and Alan Alderman became the first man with ALS to row across the Atlantic

“[My faith] has been a journey,” Alderman acknowledges. “I think that as human beings we kind of ebb and flow. We have peaks and valleys in everything in life, even in our relationship with our Father in Heaven, and I am hoping and I believe that as we have one peak and then we go down into the next valley, that valley is not as low as the valley before it. Then we summit the next peak and it is a little bit higher than the one before. Then we continue until we finally reach and return to live with our Father in Heaven.”

The row contained both peaks and valleys as Alderman adjusted to the physical demands of the race. But through the process, he learned, “Most of what we do in life is just noise. We need to simplify and have a singularity of purpose in our lives, and when we achieve that, then we are at peace and our lives are happier and more fulfilling.”

Looking forward to the journeys that await him, Alan Alderman can honestly say, “I don't fear death, and I think that is because of the gospel and because of the testimony and the faith that I have. But until that happens, I am going to live. . . . I am going to have experiences with my Father in Heaven and my fellow humans, and that's what makes a life. It's not how long you live, but how you live.”

Alan Alderman raising his arms in triumph, grateful to God for his life

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