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How One Woman's ALS Journey Raised More Than $750K For Essential Research

Diagnosed with ALS in her thirties, Andrea Lytle Peet made it her mission to encourage others to appreciate the gift of life. Discover how Canva empowered Andrea and her team to raise essential funds and inspire a global community to achieve their goals.

Andrea Lytle Peet believes in making something meaningful out of tragedy. "I've come to believe that things happen, and it’s up to us to give them reason, to find perspective," she tells Canva. The former city planner, from Raleigh, North Carolina, was 33 years old when she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative motor neurone disease that causes muscle weakness and can lead to paralysis and death.

There is no cure for ALS and the average life expectancy is two to five years. Despite the devastating news, Andrea refused to let this diagnosis prevent her from enjoying the rest of her life. Instead, she was motivated by the motto she lives by, “Go on, be brave,” and made it her mission to empower others to achieve goals they otherwise thought were impossible.

“I remember the fear and uncertainty of just being diagnosed and realizing that my life as I previously knew it was over. The realization I came to was this: I could be depressed or I could be living my life with joy, the time would pass either way,” Andrea tells Canva.

Finding Hope Through Marathoning

Prior to her diagnosis, Andrea discovered a passion for running while living in Washington D.C, with her husband, David. She first started running on a treadmill as a way to stay active during the brutal winter blizzards, then progressed to an 8K run with a friend. “I learned that I loved challenging my body,” Andrea said.

Andrea went on to compete in her first marathon followed by a 70.3-mile half Ironman triathlon. Within eight months, Andrea recalls going from “the strongest I’ve ever been to walking with a cane” when she was diagnosed with ALS in May 2014.

What started out as a means to stay active, Andrea’s love for running and competing never waned even after she received the crushing ALS news.

As Andrea’s husband, David, explains, “Andrea is an incremental overachiever.”

Launching The Team Drea Foundation

Andrea soon realized she could use her journey to offer hope to others with ALS, and in 2016 she and David established the Team Drea Foundation(opens in a new tab or window).

“Our mission is to raise money for ALS research, but we see our work as an opportunity to live bravely, love joyfully, and appreciate the gift of life. We celebrate all the things that ALS takes away,” Andrea said.

Andrea has continued with her love of racing through the use of a recumbent trike. She has inspired an entire community spanning across the U.S, Canada, and the UK in supporting her mission through fundraising, and accomplishing their own fitness milestones through the “Team Drea Challenge.”

Today, Andrea and her team have raised more than USD $750,000 for ALS research.

“I wanted everyone to have that feeling of crossing a finish line of a race they weren't sure that they could do. I had felt that several times in my life and it was enough to crack open my self-imposed limitations of what was possible. So I thought it could be an amazing opportunity for others to challenge themselves and appreciate what their bodies can do, all while raising money for ALS research," she said.

Sharing The Team Drea Mission With Canva

Canva has been an essential visual communications tool for Andrea and her team to spread the Team Drea mission and drive fundraising efforts through highly engaging templates and videos.

All 10 staff on the Team Drea Foundation are volunteers, including Shaw Hipsher and Elizabeth Spitz, who are Andrea’s long-time friends. Located across the U.S, the team can effectively collaborate remotely in real-time within their Canva for Nonprofits(opens in a new tab or window) account to bring their visual designs to life.

“With Canva, our brand colors and fonts are so easily accessible [to the team],” Shaw said.

Without access to professional design resources, Elizabeth explains how Canva has empowered the team to create engaging social media posts that have driven record fundraising results.

“I used Facebook to promote one post that generated USD $1,000 in six hours, just from my small group of friends,” Elizabeth said. “I did follow-up posts with pre-existing templates and only changed the wording and photos. As someone who doesn’t have design skills, Canva was super useful and easy to use.”

Taking Part In The ALS 50for50 Challenge

Five years after her diagnosis, Andrea gave herself a new challenge: to complete a marathon in all 50 U.S. states. She was not sure if her body would sustain her long enough to achieve that ambitious goal, but she wanted to fully commit to living her life in spite of ALS.

As she has neared the start line of her 50th marathon Andrea and her team launched the ALS 50for50 Challenge(opens in a new tab or window), which encourages supporters to “be brave” by committing to a personal or physical challenge that involves the number 50. Their goal is to raise USD $50,000 towards ALS research.

Canva played a monumental role in the marketing strategy of the ALS 50for50 Challenge, enabling the team to effectively create, approve, and share promotional social media templates in real-time.

“We have our small group of volunteers all on the same team and [we’re] able to share designs and collaborate much more efficiently through shared folders, Brand Kits, and images,” said Shaw.

The marketing campaign will also feature testimonials from athletes who have participated in races in honor of Andrea, all of which were created using Canva's video editor(opens in a new tab or window) capabilities.

“Editing those would have been incredibly overwhelming without Canva,” Shaw said. “Canva is giving us skills that we don’t really have.”

Andrea will cross the finish line for her 50th marathon in Alaska on May 28, a date that carries great significance as the day after the 8th anniversary of her ALS diagnosis. “Alaska is the state I have been most excited about to visit, so it makes it extra special that it is #50,” she said.

Crossing the finish line, Andrea will become the first person with ALS to achieve marathoning in every state on a recumbent trike. Since her diagnosis, she has already accomplished completing 53 marathons in 48 states, 19 half marathons, and 6 triathlons.

Moving Forward And Continuing To Inspire

Andrea’s sheer passion for marathoning has also had a beautiful ripple effect on her network: David is training for his first marathon, and Elizabeth completed a full Ironman triathlon with Andrea’s encouragement.

“Team Drea has brought in so many people at different points in their journeys, doing a first half marathon, or a first 5K run. Some people are even doing things as a family, all under Team Drea’s name,” Shaw said.

“Andrea’s main message, besides fundraising for ALS research, is to appreciate what your body can do.”

Throughout her journey, Andrea has remained a remarkable source of hope in the ALS community.

She has seven swallows tattooed on her arm, one representing every year she has lived with ALS, and plans to add an eighth tattoo after completing her 50th race in Alaska.

“I’ve realized that people who are diagnosed need someone to give them hope. If my story can help provide that, that’s all I want. I was lucky enough to find people,” she said.

Andrea’s positivity and optimistic outlook on life have been inspirational to those who join her community and support her, and a documentary(opens in a new tab or window) chronicling her journey is expected to debut in 2023.

“On one hand, I'm amazed. I never actually thought I would reach the goal. It was just my way of saying, ‘I'm going to live my life and not wait for ALS to take over’,” Andrea said.

“On the other hand, I'm a little sad that this journey is coming to an end. It's been so much more fun, challenging, and meaningful than I ever imagined. The races are no longer numbers for me now -- now, they are places, people, and memories that I will always cherish.”

For more on Andrea’s story and to support the Team Drea Foundation’s mission, visit www.teamdrea.org/als50for50(opens in a new tab or window). All funds from the Team Drea Foundation go to ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI)(opens in a new tab or window)and ALS research at Duke University(opens in a new tab or window).

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