Log in to a Facebook page or go through your feed on Twitter, and it doesn’t take long to come across someone taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
It’s hard not to crack a smile watching co-workers, relatives and friends dance around and scream after they are doused with freezing water. The creativity of some of the people taking the challenge is also impressive – like the one I saw yesterday of a group of public works employees using a front end loader to douse colleagues.
But ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – is far from a laughing matter.
Other than knowing of Lou Gehrig, whose name has been attached to the disease since it ended the Ironman’s playing career and eventually his life, I knew little about it until the early aughts.
I was working as the assistant editor in Pilot Point, the town where my grandfather had cut hair on the Square for years and years. My father went to school there, and my older brothers graduated high school there.
I heard the town’s grocery store owner, R.D. Stephens, had come down with Lou Gehrig’s. I didn’t really know what that meant.
From my childhood, I remembered R.D. as a larger-than-life figure, a man my brothers had worked for and recalled fondly.
A group in Pilot Point was organizing to take part in a walk to raise money for ALS research. As the event neared, I went out to see R.D. and his wife Donna, and do a story about him and ALS.
I did a little research before arriving at their house but still had a lot of questions. Donna patiently answered as R.D., who was unable to talk without the assistance of a computer, sat there.
Every few minutes, he would chime in with thoughts. He’d also begin to reminisce and through the computer tell tall tales about my father. My favorite was the story of how an arrow ended up going through my grandmother’s china cabinet.
I couldn’t help being heartbroken talking to the Stephens and seeing what ALS had already taken from their family. While his mind was sharp, his body was betraying him at every turn.
I don’t know of a more cruel ailment. Stephens lost his battle with ALS in September of 2004, not long after I talked with him.
While watching the viral videos of the ice bucket challenges, I think about R.D. Stephens, and I know he has to be laughing at people.
You may be tired of those videos, but I’m truly glad to see the funding flooding into the ALS Association – $53.3 million since July 29.
Maybe one day we can ice out this disease.
Richard Greene is sports editor for the Messenger.