On a cool and blustery Saturday morning, nearly 600 runners turned out for the Dragon Chase 5K at The Mermaid in Mounds View to support Gavin Pugh, a soccer coach who was diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, on April 19.
The Dragon Chase, in conjunction with a pancake breakfast that morning that drew 500 people, was the latest fundraising efforts on behalf of Pugh, a beloved fixture in the Minnesota soccer community.
“It was better than anyone expected; it was great,” Rich Sonterre, president of the New Brighton Blaze Soccer Club and a former mayor of Mounds View, who helped organize the race, said. “We had 590 runners at the event—we were hoping for 150.”
“It was really heartwarming to see players in the soccer community show up wearing their club colors and enjoying the experience with people they normally compete with on the field,” Sonterre said.
Carey Vosler, who finished the Dragon Chase with the fastest women’s time of 21:42, said she ran because a friend who helped organize the event really cared for the cause, and that she quickly came to appreciate how invested people were in it.
“There was a ton of people there, people that were taking it very seriously and people who were doing it because they cared about Gavin,” Vosler said.
Pugh, a 35-year-old married father of two young children who is originally from the United Kingdom, was diagnosed with ALS last year after experiencing unexplained muscle loss and weakening. Around the same time, he was also diagnosed with Lyme disease and other immunodeficiency disorders.
According to the ALS Association, ALS is a degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the brain’s ability to control muscles throughout the body. ALS has no known cure and is fatal; many therapies for it are considered experimental and are not covered by insurance.
Following the Dragon Chase, Pugh, who has trouble breathing and speaking because of the disease, posted a message on the race’s Facebook page, thanking everyone who participated.
“The monies raised allow me to try ‘experimental’ protocols that are extremely expensive; I assure you, we take great care in choosing what to attempt,” Pugh wrote. “It means the world to me and my family (both sides of the pond) to receive this emotional and financial support at this very, very difficult time.”
Described by Sonterre as a “god” in the soccer community, Pugh, who was most recently the coach of the Champlin Park boys high school soccer team, founded Dragon Soccer in 2004 and Centennial Soccer Club. He was also the Mounds View Mustangs boys high school soccer coach from 2006-2010.
A number of fundraisers beyond the Dragon Chase have benefited Pugh, including an event at Britt’s Pub in Minneapolis and several youth soccer camps. A fundraising page through www.youcaring.com  was established for Pugh about a month before his race with a goal of raising $10,000.
On the page dedicated to Pugh, one donor, who identified himself as Chris Mason, a former Mounds View soccer player, wrote about the impact Pugh had on his life.
“You inspired me not only to be a better soccer player but to be a better person. You care so much about every one of your players and that care is contagious,” Mason said.
“Thank you Gavin. Thank you for being a wonderful coach, person and friend.”
More fund raising efforts are planned to benefit Pugh in the future, plans for which can be found at www.facebook.com/Team4Gavin .
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at email@example.com  or 651-748-7824.