A few days ago I posted a blog on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon that has been sweeping the country for the past few weeks. The ALS Association has stated that since July 29 over 300,000 persons have taken the challenge, including many high-profile politicians, entertainers and sports figures, and nearly $16 million has been raised.
Although he wasn’t the first person to take the challenge, Peter Frates is generally recognized as the person who popularized it and really got it rolling. (Mr. Frates was assisted considerably by a close personal who died tragically recently while promoting the challenge.) Mr. Frates’ story is both tragic and inspirational. It is tragic because it involves a healthy, athletic, young man with his whole life ahead of him who is being killed slowly, painfully and inexorably by a disease for which there is no effective treatment or cure. It is inspirational because that young man, rather than quietly and passively accepting his fate, has chosen to work actively to raise awareness of the disease and raise money to help find a cure, if not for him than for future sufferers. This has been achieved not only through diligence, effort and personal contacts to spread the word, but also through the adroit use of social media. A seven minute profile on ESPN helped, not to mention the idea of donors dumping a bucket of ice on their heads and publicizing it on social media.
Peter Frates was a star baseball player at Boston College University and captain of the team. He may not have made it to the Major Leagues, but he was young and healthy and playing the sport he loved. Following graduation he continued to play professionally in Europe and in summer leagues in the US.
The symptoms started slowly and innocuously – twitching in his upper body and arms. We all get twinges and aches and pains. No biggie, we expect it to pass. No one wants to act like a hypochondriac; not every symptom is a portent of cancer or some other dreaded disease. Right? So thought Mr. Frates, until other symptoms appeared. His performance on the field began to suffer; he lost bat speed; he could no longer get around on a fastball; a wrist injury just would not heal; his energy dissipated; he had trouble getting going in the morning; he needed naps during the day. Neither he nor various doctors could figure out what was wrong.
Then, one day he did what doctors say one should never do. He looked up his symptoms on the internet and self-diagnosed. He found his symptoms were a text-book match for those of ALS. Suddenly, his life was turned upside down. Instead of having his entire life ahead of him, he had approximately 1,000 days to live. His plans to marry and raise a family were in serious doubt.
What to do? Well, rather than accept his fate passively, Mr. Frates became determined to make a difference. Two years later, we see the results. Not only is the challenge proceeding full-bore, but Mr. Frates is married with a baby on the way.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
I believe that there is no higher praise we can use to describe a person’s life than “he made a difference;” “he made a contribution that will endure.” Very few of us have the opportunity, courage or desire to achieve that. Peter Frates has accomplished that. His actions have raised the public awareness of ALS considerably as well as raised millions of dollars to fight the illness. His legacy will endure. His courage in the face of tragedy is and will continue to be an inspiration to us all.
To paraphrase his own words, a cure may come too late to benefit him, but it will come someday to benefit someone else. We can only hope.