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Spotlight On … Niall and Dawn Foley

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Hero is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of a firefighter. They are ordinary people with extraordinary courage, whose lives revolve around helping others while confronting their fears. Niall Foley is no different. As a 30 year veteran of the Glendale, CA fire department, Niall has had many instances of battling forces that seem beyond control. Now, the 56-year-old former fire captain is facing a battle with ALS and, just like the situations he encountered as a fireman, he is facing his diagnosis head-on, with determination, and with unwavering positivity and humor.

Niall Foley at Glendale Fire Station 26

Niall is not facing these challenges alone, but with an amazing community that consists of a large extended family, friends, and his fire family at the Glendale Fire Dept. Most of his all, his wife of 26 years, Dawn, has been by his side throughout his journey. 

The two first met in 1987, when she was a cocktail waitress at a bar he was scouting out as a location for his rookie firefighter party.

Dawn and Niall Foley in Thousand Oaks

“When I first saw Niall, I thought he was the most beautiful man that I had ever seen,” shared Dawn. “And…  I walked over and told him just that.”

Through a mutual friend, they each learned more about the other and exchanged contact information.  They decided to start dating six months after that initial meeting, Five years later, they were married on February 22, 1992. Today, their deep regard for one another is visible to all who meet them. The two have the warm and easy parlance of a couple that have loved and supported one another over many years.

Niall Foley in New York for St. Patrick’s Day 2018

The Foley’s battle with ALS began in 2015, when Niall noticed an increased weakness in his right arm and hands. After his diagnosis, it soon became apparent that he would need to retire from active duty. Niall did not allow himself to wallow and instead seized the opportunity to travel. Dawn was able to get the time off her job in sales, so they took an epic trip for a month. 

“We’ve been able to take some bucket-list trips that have just been fantastic, from Bora Bora to Ireland,” Niall told the LA Times in 2017. “I got to show my wife the Eiffel Tower this year — that was pretty special.”

After they were done traveling, they focused on trying treatments that had the potential to slow down the progression of ALS. Niall was on Riluzole, but didn’t see any noticeable effects. He also tried Radicava for six months, but they also did not see a benefit. While they were disappointed by this outcome, the Foley’s recognize how unique each person’s experience is living with ALS and focus on making each day the best.

“Everyone is different in how they present and progress in the disease.” said Dawn.

“When I got this diagnosis, it was like God was turning over my hourglass,” shared Niall. “I have decided to make the most of the time I have now. Each relationship has become more special. Most of all, I want to make a positive impact on people’s lives while I can.”

Niall Foley being interviewed at the 2017 LA Dodgers ALS Awareness Day

For many years, Niall and Dawn have already been devoted to supporting organizations that make a difference. They are now using their time and energy to raise awareness and funds for the ALS Network. The two have participated in many community outreach events, including our annual Los Angeles Dodgers ALS Awareness Day. Then in 2017, Dawn, who is an avid cyclist and triathlete, decided to organize a local community ride to raise money for their Ventura Walk to Defeat ALS team, “Fighting For Foley.”

Dawn Foley with participants at the 2017 Stonehaus Ride to Defeat ALS

What started out as a small event with a goal of $5,000, became an event of 70 participants and 30 volunteers that raised over $15,000! This encouraged them to expand their efforts, with the support of the ALS Network, the inaugural SoCal Ride and Rally to Cure ALS will be held on Saturday, July 21, 2018. There are several bike routes for all levels of ability, a 2.9 mile run/walk, a hike along the Power Line trail, and a short walk around Dos Vientos Park.

With 150 participants signed up so far, the event has a fundraising goal of $50,000. Niall and Dawn are passionate about raising money for the Organization’s mission. “The ALS Network has a ‘three prong approach’ to helping people with ALS and their families: they fund research for treatments to slow the progression and to find cures for ALS; they provide care and support for families facing ALS at no cost; and they advocate to the federal, state, and local government on important public policy issues for the ALS community.

“The ALS Network has been fantastic to our family,” shared Dawn, “They have been extensive in the services they provide. The monthly support groups have allowed us to know we are not alone in this journey. Creating this event is a great forum to raise ALS awareness and funds for research and services. Our community is showing their support by riding with us. We hope to grow the ride to rival the Napa Valley Ride, Walk & Roll to Cure ALS one day!”

“There are no words to truly describe what life has been like living with ALS. It robs you of everything and the only thing you can do is live for today. Our motto is, ‘Today we LIVE’.”

Niall’s courage in facing his diagnosis head-on, with determination and unwavering positivity, along with he and Dawn’s generosity of time to help others in and out of the ALS community is an inspiration. The ALS Network is grateful to Niall and Dawn Foley for their tremendous efforts in raising awareness and funds to support the ALS community we serve.

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