“There will be no white flags,” said NFL star Steve Gleason on the day that he was diagnosed with ALS. He meant it.
A Rare Disease With No Cure In Sight
ALS is short for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and it’s often better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig was the baseball player that brought the condition to the American public’s attention.
It kills the motor neurons that control our voluntary muscles; in effect, it paralyzes the victim, but in a long, slow, drawn out process. One in 10 people get the disease due to genetics, but for 90% of victims, nobody can explain why they contract it.
Typically, this condition begins in someone’s 50s or 60s, giving them a life expectancy of around 10 years following diagnosis. Around 10% of sufferers are known to live longer.
A Super Bowl Year For The Saints
Stephen Gleason played in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints. In 2006, he was part of one of the most famous moments in that team’s history when he blocked Atlanta Falcon Michael Koenen’s punt. The ball was recovered by Curtis Deloatch and he scored.
This was the first time that the Saints had scored in New Orleans since the events of Hurricane Katrina 21 months before. Not only did the team win the game, but they went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Gleason wasn’t on the field for the Super Bowl win, but he was given the key to the city by Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans.
In 2011, after moving out of professional football, Gleason told the world that he was suffering from ALS.
Five Years Of Courage
In 2016, Steve Gleason released a movie called Gleason. It was a factual documentary of his experiences battling ALS over the previous five years.
It premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was immediately acquired by Amazon Studios for distribution. It was given a theatrical release in the United States on July 29, 2016.
It is a painful film to watch, as Gleason loses control of most of his muscles and his own voice, but it is an honest and courageous portrayal of a man fighting a fight that he cannot win.
He said of the movie: “Really, my movie isn’t even about ALS. It’s about being a human rather than a kitty cat. Michel and I chose to turn my footage into a feature film because we thought viewers would see themselves in our humanity.
We’re two imperfect people striving to find strength, solidarity, and love under extraordinary circumstances. I believe the desire to live with purpose, despite the circumstances in one’s life, is universal. If our movie inspires anyone to live life more triumphantly, rather than hanging in there, we’ve succeeded.”
Making Incredible Achievements
During his fight, he also founded the Team Gleason Foundation, which has now raised millions of dollars to fight ALS. He also helped provide inspiration for a bill, promoted and signed into law by President Barack Obama, to enable essential technologies to be made available to ALS patients through Medicare and Medicaid.
Washington State University decided to recognize Gleason’s courage by presenting him with the 2017 Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, the university’s highest honor.
WSU President Kirk Schulz said: “Steve Gleason epitomizes the essence of Cougar Spirit. His passion to persevere and succeed, despite life’s challenges, has inspired thousands—not only in the United States but around the world.”