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Renee Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon Walk to Defeat ALS

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Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

This summer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease—got a big awareness boost with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Sunday morning, the ALS Association hosted its Walk to Defeat ALS event, keeping that momentum going.

“Our goal for today is to raise awareness of ALS and raise funding to support people who are living with ALS and to support research,” said Fred Fisher, President and CEO of the ALS Association Golden West Chapter. “The more money that we can raise, the more people we can help and the more research we can fund.”

The walk, held in Los Angeles near Exposition Park, had an impressive turnout, with about 2,500 participants signed up by registration close. Fisher estimated that between 3,000 to 5,000 people ultimately turned up to walk or to cheer on family and friends.

Team Nanci: The NBAA (Nanci Beat the hell outta ALS Assoc.) was one such team in attendance, gathered to support veteran publicist and co-founder of BWR Public Relations, Nanci Ryder. Ryder was diagnosed with ALS in August and has since stepped down from BWR, which she launched with Paul Baker and Larry Winokur in 1987.

Renee Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon, Emmy Rossum, Katharine McPhee, and Elyes Gabel were all there to support Team Nanci. Zellweger, Ryder’s client and long-time friend, felt it was crucial to create this circle of support. “With Nanci’s new diagnosis, we rallied all of our friends because we didn’t want her to feel that she was going to go down this road by herself,” she said.

For Rossum, the cause is personal for several reasons. She has known Ryder, her publicist, for 15 years. Additionally, her recently released film You’re Not You stars Hilary Swank as a woman with ALS and Rossum as her caretaker. “To have lived that and understood it so in depth, having researched it to make the film, and then have Nanci diagnosed was a really hard punch,” she said. “I think what’s so hard about this illness is we have no idea what causes it and there’s no cure, so being here is incredibly moving and empowering for me. Just to be here to support Nanci is really important.”

Zellweger and Rossum want to continue raising awareness and research funding to find a cure. “[Nanci has] been a mentor to me, a big sister, a little sister, a bad influence,” Zellweger quipped. “We’ve shared a lot, and this is just another chapter in our friendship.”

To support Team Nanci, click here.