Steve Ueltschi, a Frankfort mail carrier, had planned last spring to attend the charity walk Saturday morning in Lexington's Rupp Arena to fight a tough disease.
Stricken in September 2010 with ALS — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Ueltschi told relatives and friends that he would put on his Big Blue cap and outpace them in the walk.
But Ueltschi died of the disease on May 29. He was 47.
About 30 of Ueltschi's relatives and friends wore T-shirts in his honor Saturday at the ALS Association Kentucky Chapter's fund-raising walk. The walk attracted about 300 people and raised about $50,000 for research and to help support patients and families who face the disease.
ALS attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.
"It's a horrific, bitter disease," said Steve Ueltschi's wife, Francie Ueltschi. "Within two months of being diagnosed on Sept. 30, 2010, he was totally immobile except for his neck and head.
"He never gave up his will to live. Yes, he would get emotional at times but he never quit smiling."
Kentucky has about 170 ALS patients, said Patricia Peak of Louisville, care services coordinator for the ALS Kentucky chapter.
Mari Bacon, executive director of the state chapter, said the chapter has annual fund-raising walks in Louisville, Lexington, Murray, Northern Kentucky, Jackson and Monticello.
Saturday's was the eighth annual walk in Lexington, Peak said, but she noted that before then, Lexington held a walk in honor of Lexington Herald-Leader publisher Lewis Owens, who died of the disease in 1998.
UK assistant athletic director Marcus Hill was at Saturday's walk to greet and encourage participants.
He said his dad, Marvin Hill of Iowa, an auto body technician and service manager for car dealerships, died of ALS about two years ago. His father suffered with the disease for 20 months.
Louisville businessman Doug Butcher, who serves on the state and national ALS boards, said there were recent medical discoveries of genes involving the disease.
"This could help with not only ALS, but diseases like Parkinson's and Huntington's — even autism," said Butcher, whose mother, Dottie Butcher, died of ALS. "It does become personal."
Saturday's walk consisted of four laps around the upper concourse of Rupp Arena — about a mile.
ALS patients in wheelchairs were positioned at the front of the walk.
Some walkers dabbed their eyes. There were a lot of hugs in the crowd.
The Ueltschi clan was a little bit back in the pack.
Francie Ueltschi said she was able to do the walk and get through "all the tough times" in the past year because of her late husband, the grace of God and hope that someday ALS will be a thing of the past.
The back of her T-shirt read: "In Loving Memory of My Hero ... My Husband. I won't let go, My Love. Always and Forever."