Melissa "Fiver" Kern has been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien since she read The Hobbit as a child, and has always loved books. Her heart leaped when she saw the preview for Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Lord of the Rings, and she has been involved in organizing like-minded "Ringers" in the Southeast for many years now.
I am Chris, her husband. The hard truth is that Melissa was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Essentially, it causes all the motor neurons to shut down, gradually making the muscles unable to function. It’s very rare (1 in 1 Million) for someone who’s only 34 years old to come down with this, as it mainly affects people between 50 and 70. Life expectancy is usually 3-5 years from diagnosis. (She was diagnosed in December of 2007.) The disease progressively takes away movement and coordination. In early 2007, she was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, in the best shape of her life, and marched with fellow LotR fans in the annual DragonCon parade. A year later, she was barely walking, and needed my help to climb stairs or get dressed. That's the tragedy of how this disease works.
In Spring of 2008, Melissa was excited about the filming of "The Hobbit" sequels, but was apprehensive about the release dates of the films. She didn’t even know if she would still be alive when these movies are released. I told her to make that her goal : to be around to see these films in the theater. But I didn't want to take that chance.
I started PROJECT FIVER with the mission of delivering a petition to Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, and whoever takes the Directorship of the Hobbit Movies, asking that Melissa be cast as a costumed hobbit extra in the film. Even if she’s not there when the movies are released, just being part of the production of The Hobbit, even if it’s just sitting at a table in the background, will absolutely mean the world to her. It would be her reason to hang on.
Melissa has done an incredible amount to promote Tolkien Fellowship. She has been a key member of the Tolkien Track at DragonCon for several years, and has also volunteered with the Young Adult Literature track there. She has been an active member on TheOneRing.net, co-leader of ArmsOfMiddleEarth.com and member of numerous LotR-Related Moots, and Meet-Up groups in the Atlanta area. Additionally, she has helped organize local Release Parties for the Harry Potter books and coordinated with movie theaters to have a crew of costumed Pirates raise money for the AMC Stars of Hope Charity at the Pirates of the Caribbean movie premieres. Many in these groups have been asking what they can do to help her out and lift her spirits, and PROJECT FIVER'S Petition to the Hobbit was my best answer.
I had faith in the power of Geek Social Networking. Melissa is just one of those people who knows everyone, and you never forget. Through emails, blogs and message boards, word of Project Fiver spread quickly. I kept it secret for a month and revealed it to her on her birthday, March 8th. By that time we had 844 signatures on the petition. Two months later we had 4000, and in May we got a call from a representative for The Hobbit's company in New Zealand. My plan was to collect the petitions and send them all with my request, but apparently many people contacted them directly as well. (Some of the petitioners are staff in the company, working on the film!)
While the official production of the film has suffered many setbacks and delays, we have a virtual handshake agreement that they will work to make our wish for Melissa to come true -- for her to be a part of the film -- once production starts.
Until then, ProjectFiver is a rally point for Melissa's efforts to raise money for ALS Research and support of the families affected by the disease. She captains the team "Fiver's Flamingos" in the ALS Association's WALK TO DEFEAT ALS every November, and helps raise awareness of the disease in the community. All this on top of helping me raise our son, Matthew. She is a truly unique woman.
(AKA "Bill the Pony")