Michael Long was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2015 and has since lost the ability to take part in activities he loved doing.
A self-professed adrenaline junkie, the 59-year-old Burbank resident had always found himself outdoors. He was an avid skier, ran a hiking club and backpacked often, but his disease has progressed to the point where he has become a quadriplegic.
This past Sunday, officials at Belmont Village of Burbank — the assisted and senior-living facility where Long resides — surprised him with a trip to Irwindale Speedway, where he was taken on a 10-lap ride-along in a race car used in stock-car racing.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do something that emptied my adrenals,” Long said. “A little adrenaline rush is always good.”
Long said he was just happy to be outside and going somewhere, saying that he loved seeing the snow-capped mountains during the drive to the racetrack. Being able to go around an oval track at 100 mph was just the cherry on top.
It took some effort to get Long ready for his ride-along. Because he is a quadriplegic, Long said several people had to help get him into his racing suit, as well as in and out of the race car.
“I’m very grateful for everyone involved who helped me out with this and providing me this opportunity,” he said.
Long’s ALS diagnosis came as a big shock to him. He said he was surprised that someone with his high activity level could be brought down so quickly by the debilitating disease.
He noticed his muscles twitching from time to time, and his doctors thought it was a mineral deficiency, at first. However, after being tested by a neurologist, they determined that Long had ALS.
Long said he slowly became weaker, to the point where now he can no longer move his limbs.
“It been definitely a challenge,” he said. “The weakness started in my hands and then it spread. It’s been tough, but I have good friends, and a good crew that really help a lot.”
This April will mark the fourth year Long has been living with ALS. While he said he was grateful to get a quick adrenaline rush at Irwindale Speedway, he added he misses being able to go on treks into the wilderness.
“I just miss being outside and exploring,” Long said.