Andrea Lytle Peet went from completing a half Ironman to needing a cane to walk, less than six months later. She was ultimately diagnosed with ALS, at the age of 33. Doctors told her that she had two to five years to live, and that before she died, she would lose the ability to walk, talk, move, eat and breathe.

Now, ten years later, she is the first person with ALS to have completed a marathon in all fifty states and she and her husband run the Team Drea Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds for ALS research. She hopes that her story will inspire and encourage not only others living with ALS, but anyone struggling with a challenge in their life.

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Given how quickly the disease progressed at first, “I really thought I wasn’t going to be around for very long,” Andrea recalls. As time went on though, and she realized that she wasn’t on the same trajectory as most people with ALS, she decided, “I’m not waiting around for this disease to kill me. I’m going to set a goal that isn’t ‘I’m not going to die’; it’s ‘I’m going to go for it now.’

She completed a triathlon. She raced on her recumbent trike. And when she passed the milestone of her fifth anniversary of living with ALS, she decided to complete a marathon in all fifty states. At that time, she had run a marathon in seven of them. In 2022, she crossed the finish line in Alaska, accomplishing her goal.

Last year, she published her memoir, Hope Fights Back: Fifty Marathons and a Life or Death Race Against ALS. “Hope is everything. It is what powers me to be able to go forward and know that today I am here, and today I can make a difference. We think of hope as a passive or a timid thing, but when we are actively pushing hope, hope is always there and wants to be a partner with us. ‘Hope’ is a pretty badass word.”

Her friend, Jen Cox, agrees. “I feel like I was always a hopeful person, but after being friends with Andrea, after watching her journey, it just really showed me how important it is to be hopeful, even in the darkest moments of your life. You still have to find that hope. And is that easy? No, absolutely not. But I think if you don’t have that hope, if you don’t have that support system, you really don’t have much. So hope has definitely been redefined to me through Andrea’s lens. And I truly appreciate that because I feel like I’m even more hopeful during those tough moments.”

Andrea has a flock of swallows tattooed on her forearm, one for every year that she’s lived with ALS. Swallows are a traditional sign of hope; when sailors saw them, they would know that they were getting close to land. “It’s a way to celebrate making it to a new year. I have fun things, like the one in 2020 has a little mask on it. I do think that, damn, being told that you are going to die, that there is nothing that you can do, that exercise doesn’t matter, what you eat doesn’t matter, is truly a disservice to people with ALS. Why not try ? Why not live life? Why not have fun?”

“I am a very unique example of ALS,” she acknowledges. “Just imagine not being able to move at all. You are truly trapped in your body. We need ALS to be livable, but we are nowhere near that. Right now it is a death sentence, and we need to find more opportunities to find a cure.” 

The only way that will happen is through research, and to that end, Andrea and her husband founded the Team Drea Foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness about the disease and supports two organizations that are dedicated to ALS research: ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) and Duke University. 

Team Drea has set up a special fundraiser in conjunction with Go On, Be Brave, an award-winning documentary that follows her 50-marathon journey. Not only is it worthy of viewing in its own right, streaming it contributes funds to ALS research. You can watch it here or make a separate donation here.

The money that Team Drea raises is important, but Jen believes that funding isn’t Andrea’s most valuable contribution. “I just love that Andrea has impacted so many runners and athletes with ALS. I think that’s been the most beautiful thing that I’ve seen. When you watch Go On, Be Brave, you will see this, as well, but it’s just so cool that runners and people recently diagnosed with ALS have Googled, ‘What do I do?’, have learned about Andrea and Team Drea, and they’ve been like, ‘Well, goodness, I’m going to go get a bike, and I’m going to go live my life, and spend every day living to the fullest.’ And I think that’s probably the most impactful part.”

Just because Andrea completed her 50-marathon quest doesn’t mean that she’s finished with chasing 26.2; she has more races on her calendar. “I can go out on a trike ride by myself, but how much more fun is it to be in a race environment with people cheering each other on, with spectators? It’s just such an unusual, wonderful experience. People who are runners appreciate what their bodies can do and they’re out there trying to appreciate nature; trying to get their mental health right; trying to take time for themselves; trying to be better, more healthy. That is what I want in my life and that is what I want to be around.”


Team Drea Foundation website

Watch Go On, Be Brave

Hope Fights Back: Fifty Marathons and a Life or Death Race Against ALS

Team Drea’s Facebook

Team Drea’s Instagram

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