When Dawn Cocker first joined RivALZ – Blondes vs. Brunettes Raleigh, she was just looking for a way to stay active while giving back to her community. RivALZ is a volunteer-driven flag football fundraiser where two teams of young professional women (and men) are organized around age-old rivalries – East vs. West, Blondes vs. Brunettes, City vs. Suburbs – to tackle Alzheimer’s disease, the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.
“I always grew up playing team sports and missed the camaraderie around a group of females,” Dawn says. “I came for the pure love of the game and I’ve always been a big volunteer person.”
As a RivALZ flag football player, Dawn became invested in the Alzheimer’s Association, and attended educational workshops about the disease to better understand its impact and the resources the Association was able to provide to her community.
“When I am passionate about something, everybody knows about it,” Dawn says. “I try to get my coworkers involved. I’ll talk to random strangers and it’s the first thing out of my mouth. It’s more than just a three-month season for me. I feel like fighting Alzheimer’s is a crusade I’m on for the long haul.”
But one day, the crusade hit a little too close to home. Dawn’s father, who was once a city bus driver in Chapel Hill and “never needed a map to get anywhere,” got lost meeting her for lunch and forgot his cell phone. At first, she thought he may have just been having a rough day, but then, she saw a pattern.
After the first few times he got lost, Dawn went over to his house and realized he was behind on medications and had been confused on what day it was.
“Because of my relationship with the Alzheimer’s Association, I had heard about early warning signs and symptoms, and I didn’t just chalk it up to old age as I might have otherwise,” Dawn says.
Her father was diagnosed with a Mild Cognitive Impairment, which causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. A person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
At the time, Dawn was the RivALZ co-chair in Raleigh, and during that fundraiser, the fight became personal.
“My dad was the kind of person who would always show up and never leave the parking lot until everyone else’s car was gone,” Dawn says. “He came to every one of my sister and my sporting events. Having two girls enrolled in three sports each was difficult, but he and my mom came to every single thing.”
So Dawn decided to show up for him, and everyone else facing dementia, on the field.
In 2018, Dawn’s father passed away. While it was an incredibly difficult time, Dawn says the support system she built through RivALZ helped her navigate the grief, and that year, she was the top RivALZ fundraiser in the state.
“There’s only so much you can learn about somebody when you go out drinking or something like that, but there’s a lot more you learn when you’re on a field, building a skill set together,” she says. “For me, my favorite thing about what RivALZ has brought into my life is the relationships I’ve built, but standing there with a huge check saying we’ve been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association comes in a pretty close second.”
To learn more about RivALZ – Blondes vs. Brunettes Raleigh, or to get involved with the event as a player, coach or superfan, attend our Preseason Info Session on March 9. The session will be held from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the following location:
The Pickled Onion Restaurant & Bar
8511 Cantilever Way
Raleigh, NC 27613
Appetizers will be provided and 10% of any purchases will come back to the organization and be put towards our fundraising goal. RSVP for the info session here.
This year’s RivALZ – Blondes vs. Brunettes Raleigh will take place on June 13, 2020. Interested in joining us as a player, coach or superfan this year? Registration is open through the end of March.
Visit: RivALZRaleigh.org or call 800.272.3900 to learn more.