ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Broncos fans streamed through the gates at UCHealth Training Center on Wednesday for one of the final open practices of training camp, many chose to wear purple rather than their customary orange or blue attire.
Just inside the gate and past a purple-and-white balloon arch, those who were unaware of the occasion could see exactly why this hue was the color of the day. Senior Vice President of Strategy Brittany Bowlen and siblings Annabel and Patrick Jr., as well as Broncos staff members, were on hand to greet fans and supporters, distribute foam fingers, towels and wristbands — all purple to support the Alzheimer's Association — and ask fans if they could donate to the organization, which has become very dear to them over the past decade.
"I love seeing everyone wear their purple," Annabel said. "There's people that come just to this practice because they know how important it is to us and maybe important to them for a reason that they might have been touched by the disease as well."
The purple affinity extended well beyond just the grassy berm where fans sat to watch practice, too. General Manager George Paton, Head Coach Vic Fangio and other members of the coaching and front office staffs wore purple shirts for the duration of practice, and the team replaced its usual orange field-goal post pads with purple ones to add to the effect.
"Obviously it's touched this organization in a deep way with the Bowlen family, and we have others in the organization, too, that have had family members be stricken with it," Fangio said after practice. "It's a terrible disease, and anything we can do to raise money to help cure this thing would be good."
Since 2014, when late owner Pat Bowlen announced his Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, the organization has forged a long-term partnership with the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Every year, excluding 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has had representation at the annual Walk to End Alzheimer's and raised money for the effort to push forward toward finding a cure and effective treatment for the disease and to support caregivers.
"I think what's really impactful is the long-term partnership," Executive Director of Community Development Allie Engelken said. "We have been told multiple times by the Alzheimer's Association that when Pat Bowlen shared his diagnosis, they had calls that day of individuals who said, like, 'Well, if Mr. Bowlen is talking about this, it's OK for me to be talking about this, and my family's being impacted in a really challenging way.' From that start in 2014, the relationship has grown. The Broncos and the Bowlen family have raised … now more than $700,000 for the Alzheimer's Association."
As part of Alzheimer's Awareness Day at training camp, the team and Empower Retirement also announced a joint donation of $50,000 to the Alzheimer's Association through the Broncos Country Walk to End Alzheimer's Team, which will then support both research and helping caregivers.
Research for treating Alzheimer's took an exciting new step in June, as the Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment for Alzheimer's disease for the first time since 2003. The medication, called Aduhelm, is "the first treatment directed at the underlying pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease" and "is expected to lead to a reduction in the clinical decline of this devastating form of dementia," wrote Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
This news was certainly exciting for the Bowlens, but they're hoping to see even more positive developments result from the research side in the future.
"There needs to be more research, and everyone knows it," Brittany said. "In order to make research happen, we need dollars, and that's why fundraising is really important to my family, because we know that those dollars go toward finding a cure. Just this past June … there was a huge breakthrough. Those who are early onset or just experiencing the first stages of Alzheimer's, they're starting to have medications that can help them kind of progress through the disease in a more graceful way. But there's still no cure, and there should be."
But aside from the monetary aspect, the day also allowed fans to bond with one another, including the Bowlens, over the necessary support and the difficult challenges that they face when loved ones are diagnosed.
With Brittany and Annabel's mother also battling Alzheimer's, that support is vital.
"You lose someone mentally, and then have to lose them physically, so it's almost like you experience two deaths," Brittany said. "And to do that twice, it's hard. But if you have a supportive family and you surround yourself with the right community organizations, with the right friends, you'll find the strength to get through it. I know that Annabel and my siblings and I, we've all supported ourselves and each other, and we've leaned on the Alzheimer's Association Colorado Chapter for lots of resources, and we've found the right people to surround ourselves with, and that's kind of how we came it through. It's really through the other people who are helping us stay strong."
In times like these, Brittany and Annabel said that they look to their father's wisdom for guidance.
"It's really, really tough," Annabel said. "All I try to remember is that my dad would say, 'Be tough, because we are tough. We hang in there, and we're a strong family.'"
And through their work to support the Alzheimer's Association, they have been able to find a supportive community and to path to pay it forward and hopefully help other families that are in a similar situation.
"I don't know if it makes it easier that we can bring attention to it, but it's our responsibility," Brittany said. "My dad always said that the Broncos are a platform. They have a strong legacy in this community, and there's a responsibility to do that the right way and to be number one in whatever we're doing. So we've made this intentional decision to support Alzheimer's and bring awareness and fundraise for it. That's an immense level of respect for the platform allowing us to do that."
The Broncos hosted an Alzheimer's Awareness Day at training camp on Wednesday, with support from Senior Vice President of Strategy Brittany Bowlen and Annabel Bowlen, and the Broncos partnered with Empower Retirement to donate $50,000 to the Alzheimer's Association's Colorado chapter.