March 13th, 2012: Pete Frates had no reason to brace for the worst.
He walked into the doctor’s office, once a three-sport athlete at Saint John’s Prep and the former captain of the 2007 Boston College baseball team. But with three letters out of the doctor’s mouth, all those shiny trophies and accolades evaporated in the blink of an eye. ALS. Within mere minutes, Frates no longer had baseball stats on his mind. Who cared about home runs or sabermetrics? He now had a different number consuming his life: a death sentence within two to five years.
Who knew three simple letters wielded enough power to change the course of life for not just a day, month, or year, but a lifetime? In the medical world, ALS serves as an acronym for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the illness confounds the world’s brightest minds. Motor neurons suffer irreversible degeneration, meaning muscles lose nerve signals gradually. As a result, muscles on the body’s exterior die, paralyzing the body while making breathing impossible. Efforts to link the cause of the disease remain futile, leaving half the battle in limbo.
The book Tuesdays with Morrie captures the disease’s essence perfectly:
ALS is like a lit candle: it melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax… It begins with the legs and works its way up… By the end, if you are still alive, you are breathing through a tube in a hole in your throat, while your soul, perfectly awake, is imprisoned inside a limp husk… the man frozen inside his own flesh.
How does one go about staring death in the eyes? Do you break down? Cry? What good does it do? Every time the sun rises, you wake up petrified knowing something else feels missing. Lost forever. Maybe this time your arms tingle or getting out of bed seems too mighty of a feat. Why waste a day when each new one robs another piece of your humanity?
Pete Frates knows this all too well. The disease stripped the man of the physical intangibles that defined his life for the past 29 years. Clearing the fence at Shea Field feels like eons ago for a man who stumbles to even grip a bat handle.
Yet, the competitor in Pete inspires a different disposition. Instead of wallowing in sorrow, he chooses to embrace each new day with open arms. In fact, he put those arms to work with a bucket and plenty of ice.
According to the Wall Street Journal, various professional golfers started the Ice Bucket Challenge nine months ago as a way to raise money for a wide range of pet charities. The family of Pat Quinn, a 31-year-old suffering from ALS in Yonkers, discovered the videos and nominations and added a twist. They maintained the pouring of ice water, yet decided to challenge nominees with a donation to various ALS research funds.
Seeing the attention Quinn received from his video recorded challenge, Pete Frates decided to start his own. As a result, social media practically blew up. #Icebucketchallenge appeared in over 100 daily tweets in a two-week span on July on Twitter.
The beauty of the challenge, one may ask? It works. Celebrities like David Ortiz, Justin Timberlake and Mark Zuckerberg received nominations. Not a single one denied their nominations. The ALS Association reported that in the span of two weeks, they received $7.6 million in donations. Encouragement lies deeper in the fact that nearly 150,000 new people donated to the fund within that same span.
Flash forward to today. A shell of the former maroon-and-gold ballplayer rests in a wheelchair. Frates eats through a feeding tube and has lost much of his lung capacity. Yet, he carries his cross and perseveres. Pete serves as a director of baseball operations here at the Heights. His Ice Bucket Challenge continues to raise awareness for ALS while the Pete Frates #3 Fund organization seeks to subsidize medical care and expenses not covered by medical insurance.
Frates acknowledges the dark, honest truth: ALS always wins in the ballgame of life; fact, not fiction. The Ice Bucket Challenge never questions this. However, Frates’ initiative helps even the playing field for years to come in the hope that, one day, ALS finally strikes out.
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