By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Locals looking for something cheers-worthy can raise their glasses in support of their own community members — and ALS patients worldwide — during a Thursday night launch party.
In doing so, they’ll be supporting a Findlay-area native’s longtime dream of serving his own brewery’s beer here in his hometown while doing something sweet for his high school sweetheart.
Sure, this is a story about beer.
But it’s also a story about friendship across the miles and through the years.
It’s a story about choosing to live while dying.
This is a story about what it means to be “Resilient.”
‘Hoping for a cure’
Beth Arnold — now Hardesty — was Brian Thiel’s “first sweetheart” back in the 1980s, when he was 15 and she was 16. (“I have absolutely no idea what she saw in me,” a now 51-year-old Thiel wonders.)
They went their separate ways after high school, with Hardesty graduating from Vanlue High School in 1985 and Thiel following in 1986. There were no hard feelings and when Facebook came along, they reconnected as friends.
He worked at Ball Corp. in Findlay for 21 years, the beginning of an eventual career path that led Thiel to Washington state in about 2004. He went on to become co-founder, co-owner and managing member of Seattle’s Ghostfish Brewing Co.
Meanwhile, Hardesty earned a degree in fashion merchandising from Bowling Green State University, began her career as a buyer for the former Lion Store, married and had two sons. She was remarried in 2013 to Lee Hardesty, “and he is the love of my life.”
In 2015, Hardesty started having fasciculations, twitching, in her left arm and shoulder. She had just started a new job and her oldest son was getting married, so she dismissed it as a symptom of stress. But within three months her speech was starting to slur.
She was diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating disease of the nervous system that weakens muscles and impacts a person’s physical function. Because the disease started in her head, neck and throat (bulbar onset), her neurologist told her she would likely live just two to three years more.
“Knowing this, Lee and I decided to stay positive and hopeful,” Hardesty said via Facebook messenger, having lost her ability to speak. “Every day I lift my worries up in prayer and go about my day with joy in my heart! I am living while dying, and that is not always easy.”
Hardesty communicates via eye gaze technology, essentially typing with her eyes. Both of her arms are paralyzed and she is unable to walk. She gets around with a power wheelchair, and the muscles in her neck have weakened to the point that she can barely hold her head up. “But I am still here in year four and despite everything … I’m still happy and hoping for a cure!”
Hardesty, her husband and two sons have attended the National ALS Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C., for four years and have told their story on Capitol Hill. They are passionate advocates for research funding for a disease that has no cure and no formal treatment.
From 2,400 miles away, Thiel has kept track of Hardesty’s story and wished he could offer help in some way, to “do something more than liking posts on Facebook.”
Then he got his chance.
Ales for ALS
In Yakima, Washington, exists a hop farm with a mission of goodwill.
Loftus Ranches has been growing hops in the Pacific Northwest since 1932 and, since 2013, has been providing a special blend of hops to breweries free of charge on one condition: they must create a beer from which one dollar for each pint sold will go toward ALS research.
To date, the ranch’s Ales for ALS program has raised over $1.7 million for the nonprofit ALS Therapy Development Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Thiel had been aware of the Ales for ALS program for years and says it was a “no-brainer” for Ghostfish to become a partner brewery. And lest he have any doubts, circumstances from back home in Ohio helped cement the venture with Loftus Ranches.
First, of course, was his enduring relationship with Hardesty.
Then one day he caught up with a buddy from high school, Shawn Heidlebaugh, originally from McComb. Shawn lives in Florida now and told Thiel that his brother, Scott, is battling ALS.
Soon after, another old friend, Dusty Wilson of Arcadia, mentioned that his mother had recently died from ALS.
“And these are all people I knew from high school, people I played sports against,” Thiel says. “And so I was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do something.'”
Thiel presented the Ales for ALS concept to his team, who embraced it with enthusiasm. Upon being accepted to the program and receiving the hops from Loftus, Ghostfish gave its head brewer free rein to create a product that’s “different” from the standard IPA.
The end result is a tart, dry-hopped IPA, with a flavor profile of piña colada, ripe strawberry, melon and grapefruit juice.
When it came time to name the beer, Thiel reached out to Shawn, asking Scott to sum up what it’s like to have ALS, or what he wants others to know about people with ALS.
“Resilient” came back as a recurring theme, and Thiel knew they were on to something.
“If there’s one word to describe my friend Beth, it was ‘resilient,'” he says.
The launch party
Distributing one’s own lovingly crafted beer in their home state isn’t always as easy as one might hope.
But Thiel had a will.
Ghostfish brews are distributed in 14 states, the closest to Ohio being Indiana and eastern Pennsylvania.
In order to get Resilient to his hometown, Thiel first had to apply through the Ohio liquor board of control to get the brand registered with the state. Then he had to find an Ohio-based beverage distributor willing to wholesale the beer to a retailer. Thiel reached out to Cavalier Distributing of Cincinnati who, upon hearing his story, agreed to help.
He then contacted Findlay Brewing Co. and asked if they’d be willing to host Ghostfish’s Ohio debut, with a portion of every beer sold going toward ALS research.
In both instances, Thiel notes that he was reaching out blindly, having had no former affiliation with the companies. Their eagerness to help proved yet again that Thiel was on the right track.
“The spirit of inclusiveness that exists within the craft beer industry, to see companies in fierce competition regularly collaborate and support each other,” Thiel says, makes him proud to call himself a member of the craft beer community.
Thiel has shipped 30 cases of Resilient to Findlay Brewing Co., which will sell the beer on tap and in cans during a launch party from 5-10 p.m. Thursday.
He has his plane ticket booked, and is proudly counting down the days until he can share this special beer with his friends and family back home.
“I’m hoping that Findlay Brewing Co. is standing room only and elbow to elbow and we can sell out 30 cases of this beer in a night,” Thiel says, noting that like most diseases, “ALS is seriously underfunded as far as research goes.”
“I’m a big believer that we can all do a little bit, and that the sum of those little parts can create a huge impact.”
Hardesty and her husband, of course, will be among the first in Findlay to get a taste of Resilient.
“What Brian has done has touched me deeply,” Hardesty says. “It takes a kind heart and a special person to do this for another person!”
Findlay Brewing Co. is located at 213 E. Crawford St. in downtown Findlay.