Restless Warrior

Rob Willson’s rugby club teammates called this gregarious athlete ‘Big Bob.’ To Linda Willson he was a loving husband and father of three children who dearly loved their Daddy. A University of Missouri graduate and pharmaceutical salesman, Rob succumbed to ALS on May 17, 2010, at the age of 44. But his efforts to promote and support medical research had already begun.

And Rob’s father, Bob Willson, Sr., couldn’t be more proud of his son’s courage, coupled with his commitment to collect research funds that would fight the ‘damned disease’ known as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

As Rob received treatment at the Keith Worthington ALS Clinic at the University of Kansas Medical Center, he became upset that research funds to develop treatment and a cure for ALS were very limited. His physician, Richard Barohn, is a leading ALS researcher, and Rob became his willing guinea pig for all clinical trials. Rob believed treatments are achievable if people push to secure research funding towards developing treatment and cures for ALS, Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.

Rob’s friend, Rich Ehlers, gave him support and information about the latest trials and drugs throughout every day of the three years that Rob fought ALS. Ehlers, and Joe Fridkin and Misty Fridkin also keep Rob’s fight alive through Project 5 for ALS, or Proje5t (named after Rob’s rugby shirt number). Dollars raised through Proje5t exclusively fund medical research, and Rob’s family has been highly involved since its inception.

“We’ve sponsored … the annual golf tournament, a bingo party, an auction and dinner at Livestrong Stadium, etc. to raise money,” says Bob Willson. “We have accumulated about $100,000 as of this date. We’re also adding a 5K run and walk in July, to try to increase our fund and broaden our base. We’re willing to do whatever we can to find a cure for ALS.”

Gene therapy and stem cell treatments appear particularly promising for individuals with neuromuscular disorders. Proje5t recently gave $25,000, each to two physicians, which allows them to compete for grants, seek matching grant funds, and conduct promising therapy trials.

The first annual golf tournament drew many of Rob’s KC Blues rugby mates, along with friends, family members and neighbors. One of his neighbors, Greg Sweeney, collected contributions to dedicate a bench to Rob on the second hole, and Rob’s kids put their handprints and footprints in the concrete at the foot of the bench. In addition, an annual lemonade stand has raised up to $2,000 per tournament.

“It’s the fifth anniversary this year and it’s clearly one of our biggest fundraisers,” says Bob. “We’ve got 12 holes with sponsors and we’re pushing to have all 18 holes sponsored. Karen Watts, a caterer and friend of Linda’s, has offered to do the whole lunch as her donation.

“Rob’s friends, his rugby mates, his general acquaintances, and his family have all stepped up to support his dream. I’ve never seen anybody influence and involve so many people in a project.”

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The 5th Annual Putting the Boots to ALS Robert C. Willson Golf Classic

Project 5 for ALS events raise funds that exclusively support medical research to find treatments and cures for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Date:  June 9th, 2012
Time: 11:30 a.m. registration  /  Noon lunch  /  Scramble starts at 1 p.m.
Place: Deer Creek Golf Club, 7000 W. 133rd St., Overland Park, Kan.
Entry: Fee covers 18 holes, lunch, refreshments and a collared golf shirt
           Before June 1st - $100  / After June 1st - $125
Friends of Bob - $50 (for those who can’t attend, or want to attend but not play)
Prizes: Winning foursome, longest putt, longest drive, etc.
Raffle prize for two winners: Play in a foursome with football Coach Gary Pinnkel, University of Missouri, and have dinner with him