I remember when I was seven or eight years old, there was this telethon going on to raise money for muscular dystrophy on local TV in West Texas. Along with my two brothers and my parents, we were actually part of it, there with my cousins John and Lindsey, and my Aunt Linda and Uncle Mike.
You see, my Uncle Mike was this big, strong Italian guy, who had that unique ability to be good at just about anything he wanted to do. Also: He was a train conductor, which to childhood me, made him pretty much the baddest of all the badasses. Especially because he would let me pull the train whistle.
But my lasting memory of my Uncle Mike isn’t about him on one of those trains, or fishing, or playing catch in the yard, or shooting hoops in the driveway. It’s of him laying motionless in his bedroom with a feeding tube sticking out of him only able to communicate by blinking as my Aunt Linda went through the alphabet letter by letter.
My Uncle Mike had ALS.
It took his life on his 45th birthday, when I was 11 years old, almost out of mercy. He deteriorated slowly over three long years, going from struggling with simple things like buttoning his shirt or holding a fork, to having to use a scooter to coach my cousin Lindsey’s softball team, to finally being trapped in his own bed, unable to move anything.
I’m biased, but ALS is pretty much the worst thing ever. I watched it take a healthy, obnoxiously loud and happy man, and reduce him to a lifeless body basically just waiting to die. It wasn’t just unfair. It was cruel.
So anyway, the point of all that personal rambling. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins all have accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge, an incredible grassroots campaign that is raising heaps of awareness for ALS. They all took their bath of arctic water, and posted it on Instagram, joining the thousands of others that have done the same.
I can’t stop watching them. If there’s an Ice Bucket Challenge out there, good chance I’ve seen it. It makes me think of my Uncle Mike and how hard he fought that viscous disease. It makes me think about the others out there currently doing the same. It makes me think how there is no cure, and really no good treatment for it.
I don’t know how much that telethon raised back when I was seven or eight. It definitely wasn’t enough. Probably a couple thousand dollars. To this date, behind the push of the Ice Bucket Challenge, some $5.5 million has been raised for ALS research since July 29, and counting. Last year during this same period, it was $32,000.
Take the challenge if you want. Donate some money if you feel compelled. Either way, the fact this has become a mini phenomenon is simply fantastic. I don’t care if some are just doing it to join the fad, or to grab some Instagram likes, or to gain some goodwill. Because I know for me, that stupidly cold water I just poured over my head isn’t about the likes or even the money it might help raise.
It’s about my Uncle Mike.