KUSA – Alzheimer’s has again struck the Bowlen family.
Annabel Bowlen, wife of longtime Denver Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen, announced she has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
Her announcement came nearly four years after she joined the Broncos in announcing her husband Pat Bowlen had been diagnosed with the neurogenerative disease.
"I recently learned that I've joined my husband Pat and the millions of others who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease,’’ Annabel said in a statement to 9NEWS. “Since Pat's diagnosis, I have gained a vivid understanding of this disease’s progression and its effect on those living with it as well as their families. My family and I have been—and will remain—dedicated supporters of Alzheimer's awareness, treatment and research funding.’’
For several reasons, Annabel is going public with her Alzheimer’s battle much sooner than her husband did with his.
PHOTOS | Annabel Bowlen Through the Years
"I decided to make my diagnosis public right away in the hope that it continues to raise awareness for those battling Alzheimer's and their loved ones,’’ Annabel said. “With June also being Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month, the timing was right for me to share this personal update with everyone.’’
Think of Pat and Annabel’s five children, who must now carry on knowing both their parents became inflicted with one of the cruelest diseases known to civilization.
Yet, adversity appears to be bonding the five Bowlen children.
“We are fully supportive of our mother and will face her Alzheimer’s diagnosis together as a family,’’ Annabel’s five children – Patrick, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christianna -- said in a joint statement. “During the last few years, all of us have been inspired by the strength and courage our mother has shown as she’s supported our father in his own battle with Alzheimer’s disease. We’re confident that she will bring the same grace, compassion and determination to her fight.
“In addition to being a loving mother, she has always found ways to positively impact our community. By publicly announcing her illness, we are reminded again of our mother’s commitment to raising awareness and empowering those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“We’ll continue to support our parents, stay strong as a family and do our part to raise awareness for everyone affected by Alzheimer’s disease.”
While the disclosure that both Mr. and Mrs. Bowlen have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will no doubt sadden the NFL and Broncos communities, it will have no effect on how the franchise is run or Pat’s long-standing succession plan.
Pat Bowlen set up his trust in the late-1990s with the hope that one of his seven children would earn the right to succeed him as the team’s controlling owner.
Bowlen appointed three non-family members as trustees including Joe Ellis, who also serves as the Broncos’ president and chief executive officer.
Ellis has served as controlling owner delegee of the Broncos since Pat Bowlen relinquished day-to-day responsibilities following the 2013 season.
Ellis will continue to run the franchise for the foreseeable future at least until whether the trustees determine one of the Bowlen children is ready to assume the role of principal owner.
Still, trustees, administrators, general managers, coaches and players are people, too. That Alzheimer’s has hit another prominent member of the Broncos’ family is an emotional blow.
“Our hearts go out to Annabel and the entire Bowlen family,’’ Ellis said in a statement. “She's been a wonderful ambassador and advocate for the Broncos over the years, especially in recent seasons as Pat has focused on his own battle with Alzheimer's disease.
"All of us at the Broncos are behind Annabel and know she'll face this challenge with courage and determination.
“Our support extends not only to Annabel and Pat, but also to their children. While having both parents diagnosed with Alzheimer's is daunting, they’ve already demonstrated such strength and compassion in their roles as caregivers.’’
With Annabel’s five children electing to issue a joint statement showing support for their mother, they are taking a unified front. Their statement includes Brittany Bowlen, whom 9News has reported to be the frontrunner to become the team’s next controlling owner.
Annabel also has two stepchildren, Amie Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace, Pat’s two daughters from a previous marriage.
The future ownership of the Broncos, though, seems trivial next to Alzheimer’s, which worsens as it progresses and currently has no cure.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2018 facts and figures page, more than 5.7 million Americans are living with the disease and is the 6th-leading cause of death.
An estimated 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. Annabel Bowlen and many of her children have been caregivers for Pat, who according to the team is resting comfortably at his Cherry Hills estate.
"I feel that it is important for people to know that those in my situation do not need to completely withdraw from their daily activities,’’ Annabel stated. “Based on my own experience with Pat, there will still be many joyous and rewarding moments for me as well as my family and friends.
"I intend to proceed in life with the same strength, courage and endurance that Pat has shown in his battle with this disease. Like Pat, I know there will be good days and bad days ahead. I'm grateful to have the support of my family and especially my children—Patrick, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christianna.’’
Annabel was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, where she was a figure skater and grade-school teacher when she met Pat Bowlen, who was working in real estate at the time.
Pat and Annabel married in 1980 and four years later, she moved with her husband to Denver, where he bought the Broncos with the help of his siblings from Edgar Kaiser Jr.
As Pat Bowlen became one of the most iconic owners in sports over the next 30 years, Annabel was content to serve her role as the First Lady of Broncoland out of the limelight.
That changed after the Bowlen family announced in July 2014 their patriarch had Alzheimer’s. Annabel stepped up to speak on behalf of her husband on many occasions, most notably while accepting two AFC Championship trophies and the Super Bowl 50 Lombardi Trophy. She was one of the speakers during the team’s Super Bowl parade rally in downtown Denver in February 2016.
Annabel represented ownership at Peyton Manning’s retirement ceremony, and she personally handed President Barack Obama a Broncos’ No. 44 jersey on the South Lawn of the White House during the team’s 2016 visit as Super Bowl champions.
Perhaps, Annabel’s most impressive and extensive public moment came during her acceptance speech on behalf of her husband in October 2015 when Pat Bowlen was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
“To my husband, there is no one more important than the players and coaches who have made this franchise what it has become today,” Annabel said during her nearly 10-minute speech. “’It’s not about me’ is a simple phrase of his that has defined his ownership.”
At that point, Pat Bowlen was the only individual team proprietor in NFL history to reach 300 wins in 30 years of ownership and his reign included more Super Bowl appearances (six) than losing seasons (five). He is a favorite to become one of two contributor finalists nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the selection committee votes next month.
“Although Pat is now focused on his battle with Alzheimer’s, he would never want that terrible disease to define who he is or take away from what he has accomplished,” Annabel said during her husband’s Ring of Fame induction ceremony. “But, fair or not, it is part of who he is. It’s part of his story. It’s also how Pat continues to have a positive impact on others.’’
And now, Alzheimer’s has become part of the story of the Broncos’ First Couple.
Annabel and her children have taken the lead locally in raising awareness and funding for the fight against Alzheimer’s. Team Super Bowlen, created by Annabel, is regularly among the leaders in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s event held in City Park.
Annabel, her family, and the Broncos’ organization have helped raise nearly $500,000 in the last four years for Alzheimer’s cause.
Since 2014, Annabel has stood in for her husband in Broncos’ team photos, with the players and coaches treating her like royalty. In a sense, Annabel’s role with the Broncos has similarities to that the Queen of England: Although she is not involved in administration, Annabel’s regal-like presence is felt.
"It's my hope to remain involved in various Alzheimer's events as my health allows,’’ Annabel said in concluding her statement. “And of course, I'll be cheering on our Broncos.’’
Read Annabel Bowlen's full statement below
“I recently learned that I've joined my husband Pat and the millions of others who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.Since Pat's diagnosis, I have gained a vivid understanding of this disease’s progression and its effect on those living with it as well as their families. My family and I have been—and will remain—dedicated supporters of Alzheimer's awareness, treatment and research funding.
I decided to make my diagnosis public right away in the hope that it continues to raise awareness for those battling Alzheimer's and their loved ones. With June also being Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month, the timing was right for me to share this personal update with everyone.
I feel that it is important for people to know that those in my situation do not need to completely withdraw from their daily activities. Based on my own experience with Pat, there will still be many joyous and rewarding moments for me as well as my family and friends.
I intend to proceed in life with the same strength,courage, and endurance that Pat has shown in his battle with this disease. Like Pat, I know there will be good days and bad days ahead. I'm grateful to have the support of my family and especially my children—Patrick, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christianna.
It's my hope to remain involved in various Alzheimer's events as my health allows. And of course, I'll be cheering on our Broncos.Most importantly, thank you to all of our incredible fans for the compassion and support you've given to me, Pat and our entire family.”