Raising money during the COVID-19 pandemic requires creativity, especially for an organization like the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), that normally relies on many in-person events for fundraising . In recent months, we’ve worked to adapt some of our signature events like the Tri-State Trek (which is now the virtual My-State Trek) to adhere to social distancing requirements. We’ve also tried to encourage further participation in fundraisers that are already easy to participate in from home, like our Gamers vs. ALS program.

Alan Premasiri, an Associate Scientist II at ALS TDI who studies the C9orf72 gene as well as overseeing parts of our Precision Medicine Program, has taken this as an opportunity to help by fundraising for the organization in two ways at once. By combining his video game system with a stationary bicycle trainer, he’s found a way to simultaneously log miles for the My-State Trek while streaming video games for donations as part of Gamers vs. ALS.

The My-State Trek is the virtual version of our signature fundraising event, the Tri-State Trek, a three-day, 270-mile bike ride from Boston College to Greenwich, CT. When it became apparent earlier this year that putting on the Trek would not be possible given the situation with COVID-19, ALS TDI established a new version of the event that invites people to bike, run, and walk while tracking their mileage virtually. The Gamers vs. ALS program, similarly, invites people to stream their video game sessions with their friends and followers while soliciting donations to help fund our mission to find effective treatments for ALS

During his riding and gaming sessions, Alan holds one half of a Nintendo Switch controller, which can be split in two, in each hand, while pedaling his bike, mounted on a stationary trainer, in front the TV. Following along with his feed on Facebook, you can see one window displaying his progress in games like Rocket League, Smash Brothers, and Mario Kart. Another shows his virtual avatar pedaling along in Zwift, a training software that allows cyclists to ride virtual course with each other from home. Alan says combining the two activities was a way to put his personal stamp on both challenges.

“My thought process was what would be the safest way to do it? What am I comfortable doing? And what do I think is interesting that I'd like to share with other people? I didn't think just riding in the city was going to be enough. And I'm not great at games either, honestly. I don't feel like just doing gaming on its own was particularly interesting for me. So, I thought, what could I challenge myself with? And I decided to do that over worrying about meeting a certain mileage.”

So far Alan’s gaming and riding sessions have raised over $250 for ALS TDI. Although he, like all of us at ALS TDI and many our wider community, will deeply miss the Tri-State Trek this year, these virtual events provide a great chance to stay in touch and maintain our sense of community despite the fact that we can’t gather in person. In addition, they are helping to raise vital funds for research at ALS TDI, at a time when funding is greatly needed.

“Meeting everybody is the biggest thing that I’m missing,” he says. “There’s so much anticipation leading up to [the Tri-State Trek], and even just getting there on Thursday and seeing everybody can make all of the training worth it. But with all of the virtual fundraising stuff that’s been set up, it’s helped because now I get to share and interact with everyone, and everybody’s connected.”

If you’d like to support ALS TDI you can sign up for the My-State Trek or Gamers vs. ALS, and keep an eye out for more virtual events coming soon. To donate to Alan’s virtual gaming and riding fundraiser, click here.