Attorneys help organize Box Car Derby event to boost ALS research

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Attorneys Amanda Mercer, Knut Hill and David Lowenschuss are involved in the annual Box Car Derby to raise funds in the battle against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) -- a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's Disease.

This is the fourth year of the Derby, run by Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (A2A3), a group formed to support friend and neighbor Bob Schoeni, a a University of Michigan economics and public policy professor who was diagnosed with ALS in July 2008. All three attorneys serve on the A2A3 Board.

This year's Derby is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, near the U-M Phi Delta Theta fraternity on South University in Ann Arbor. The fraternity approached A2A3 with the idea in 2008, as a change from their annual fund-raising walk. ALS has long been the fraternity's charitable cause because Lou Gehrig was a member of Phi Delta Theta while a student at Columbia University.

The entrance fee is $30 per team, with each team guaranteed at least three runs; three drivers (or fewer) per team are suggested to allow everyone a chance to drive. Pre-built cars will be available -- but creative new cars are strongly encouraged.

The event will be followed by a picnic on the fraternity house lawn and food and drinks also will be available during the event. T-shirts will also be available for purchase.

"This year, instead of push starts we've built starting ramps and we're in the process of building a number of newly designed cars," says Lowenschuss, president of David H. Lowenschuss P.L.C. in Ann Arbor.

"We're partnering with the Burns Park Elementary School art teacher and fifth-graders at Burns Park will be decorating 12 of our Box Car Derby cars for the race as part of their class project. Our platinum sponsor this year is Auto Trader, with a very generous donation."

Having worked for many years in the pharmaceutical industry, Lowenschuss was aware that large pharmaceutical companies were not investing much money or research to find a cure for ALS, whose victims usually die within a few years of diagnosis, steadily losing the ability to move, swallow and finally to breathe. Almost all the funds for neurodegenerative research -- the type of disease ALS is considered -- are focused on Alzheimer's or Parkinson's Disease, he says.

The A2A3 group -- formed shortly after Ann Arbor attorney Phil Bowen died of ALS in September 2008 -- educates the public about ALS, provides a supportive community environment for Schoeni and his family, and shows people they can make a difference in their community, he says.

A2A3 has funded two different groups: The Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, under Director Dr. Eva Feldman, part of the U-M Taubman Center, and where Dr. Feldman is involved in the first stem cell clinical trial for ALS patients; and a nonprofit biotech company ALS TDI that does cure-based ALS research. Lowenschuss provides pro bono corporate legal work to ALS TDI.

Mercer, a neighbor of Schoeni and his wife Gretchen, has also launched the A2A3 Relay Team, a group of six women planning to swim the English Channel this summer and raise $120,000 for ALS research.

"Honestly, I wasn't too sure about the Box Car Derby -- I'd never gone to anything like it," she says. "But, I'm so glad we decided to participate. Watching the faces of the kids, particularly my own, speeding down that hill -- it's priceless. And, the guys in the fraternity are phenomenal, they really add to the fun."

Hill, an environmental attorney who earned his law degree from Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del., worked for seven years at Esperion Therapeutics in his native Ann Arbor, where he met Lowenschuss. Long been committed to charity work through activities and community building, he has worked with Habitat for Humanity, run marathons, and skied across Michigan to raise support for people in need.

"I feel honored to be able to help with the Derby for the same reasons I enjoy working with A2A3 throughout the rest of the year -- the group's compassionate spirit is nearly intoxicating, and A2A3's ability to take a serious disease head on while still making it fun for families and kids throughout the community is unique," he says. "Each of our events are rewarding for all involved. We know our efforts are focused on finding a cure for this terrible disease and we're proud that the way we've chosen to do that provides hope and shows compassion for those affected."

For more information, visit A2A3.org.

Published: Thu, Feb 23, 2012

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