OTTUMWA — Muscular dystrophy may just be a name to some, but to Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) local chairman Rodney Long it’s personal.

“I have a sister and nephew with muscular dystrophy,” Long said. “It’s tough watching her struggle. She’s made progress over the years, but it’s still hard watching her struggle and even my nephew struggle with the disease as well.”

After helping his loved ones deal with the disease for so long, Long knew he had to do something. He became chairman of the “Fill the Boot Campaign” four years ago and has been organizing it ever since.

For more than two decades the fire department have dedicated much of their time to raising money for MDA and usually raise their goal each year. Long said the goal for 2019 is to raise $23,000 for MDA.

Long said much of the money raised will go toward research for MDA in Iowa to finding cures for muscular dystrophy and even raising muscular dystrophy awareness. The money raised will also go toward residents who have muscular dystrophy.

“So many people in Ottumwa are affected by muscular dystrophy,” Long said, “which is why it’s important to put this campaign on. Some of the money raised ($3,500) will go toward kids who have muscular dystrophy,” Long said. “These kids can use the money to go to a camp with other kids with muscular dystrophy and experience what it’s like to go to camp and experience a normal childhood. There will be ziplines and other activities for the kids to enjoy.”

Long said other funds raised will go toward wheelchairs for those residents affected by the disease, which cost $15,000 to $25,000. “This is necessary because they need these during the toughest time of their lives,” he said.

Firefighters continue to raise funds not only because they see this as a significant cause, but because there is a retired assistant fire chief affected by the disease and it’s a way for the department to pay tribute to him.

“It’s a life changing experience for a person who has to go through it,” Long said. “Any help they can get is what we appreciate.”

They’ve been collecting donations from pedestrians from numerous locations in town, but unlike most campaigns, they haven’t asked local businesses directly to contribute.

“We don’t ask because we don’t want to be like most campaigns. People should donate just because they want to. I know people complain about us being there, but we need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture and pay it forward,” Long said. “We have to try and help them live a single life — a longer and productive life, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The department’s ultimate goal is to make a difference, no matter how much is raised. “There’s millions of people affected by the disease,” Long said. “So every penny helps to try and help find a cure for it or slow the progression down. None of this would be possible without the city council, Chief Tony Miller, Cory Benge and others.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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