Know Your Neighbor: Cindy Shmerler, Alzheimer’s Advocate/Journalist, Pleasantville

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Cindy Shmerler

Cindy Shmerler and her family watched helplessly as they saw her mother decline.

Her mom, a longtime bridge player, 7-handicap golfer and a lifelong volunteer, had been active into her retirement years with Shmerler’s dad. But the day came when any denials about her condition could no longer be ignored, especially since Shmerler’s father, who was 10 years older than her mother, was the primary caregiver.

“I saw my mother firsthand every single day,” Shmerler said. “I was there when I found the slipper in the refrigerator down in Florida, and I knew immediately at that point.”

The family sought help at some of the top university Alzheimer’s programs in the United States, but it was too late. In 2010, her mother succumbed to the disease, about eight years after the family first suspected of a problem, when she fell down the stairs at Shmerler’s Pleasantville house.

Since her mother’s passing Shmerler has dedicated herself to volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association to help raise money to find a cure for the disease – or at least preventative measures.

The task is daunting as reported cases of Alzheimer’s continue to spiral. There are now about five million Americans with the disease; it is projected that number will more than triple by 2050, Shmerler said. Combined with threatened cuts to the National Institute of Health, which has some of the top researchers in the field, steady progress has been made, but the race is on to do more.

“Alzheimer’s is not a sexy disease because if affects older people,” Shmerler said. “But guess what? We’re all getting older and everyone will, and we all know someone who’s been affected by this now.”

Last week Shmerler, 58, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has mainly covered tennis during her career, was named co-chair of this year’s Westchester Walk to End Alzheimer’s, a roughly 2.5-mile walk scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 24 at SUNY Purchase. She will be sharing the duties with Neil Klar, a Katonah resident. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend.

The event is the largest effort in the world to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and awareness. Last year, the five walks in the Hudson Valley raised more than $1 million, according to the Alzehimer’s Association.

Despite juggling career and family responsibilities – Shmerler has a son and daughter – efforts haven’t waned since her mother’s death.

“Right after my mother passed away in September 2010, my feeling was I have to be part of the solution, as I would be doing a huge disservice to the memory of my mother and to my father, who at the time was 91,” she said.

The time she spends on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association is impressive considering her work has taken her around the globe covering some of the biggest events and personalities in tennis. Shmerler is a contributing editor at Tennis magazine and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and USA Today, among other publications. She has also appeared on ESPN, USA Network and the Tennis Channel.

Her first big interview was Billie Jean King while attending the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s and working on the school’s The Daily Pennsylvanian and playing college tennis. In her professional career, Shmerler has covered all four major tournaments.

“I’ve had a pretty neat and exciting career and I love what I do, so I’ve been very lucky,” said Shmerler, a 22-year Pleasantville resident. “I’ve traveled the world with tennis. What’s amazing about tennis is it’s such an international sport. It taught me geography, it taught me about people, so I wouldn’t trade anything that I’ve done.”

While she continues her career, Shmerler also wouldn’t trade the work she’s done on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. She said researchers know what causes and are working on preventative measures to delay the onset of the disease.

During her more than six years since she started volunteering, Shmerler has also noticed an increased willingness for people to talk about Alzheimer’s. She also encourages families who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s to remain as independent as possible.

“They’re living their lives doing everything that they can,” Shmerler said. “Maybe they’re slowing down a bit and maybe they’re not driving anymore. These aren’t people who should be hidden away in a closet. They’re very, very much alive and thriving and they have a really rotten, rotten disease, but as long as they can they’re trying to be very productive members of society.”






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