Jim ALS Photo
Have you taken the Ice Bucket Challenge yet? If not, you should probably start packing your swim trunks whenever you leave the house.

That was certainly the case for Bravo Wellness CEO Jim Pshock on Wednesday, as he accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from one of his employees. The catch? He had 24 hours to complete the challenge, which meant getting a little creative during a lunchtime break at the Bravo headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio.

Pictured right, Bravo’s CEO was only the latest to take the challenge that has gone viral on social media across the country. According to the ALS Association, they have received donations from nearly 700,000 new donors in 2014 and have already raised over $30 million this year, compared to less than $2 million last year during the same timespan.

So what is ALS? Why is it called Lou Gehrig’s Disease? And why is this challenge so important? Before I dumped a bucket of cold water on my head, I wanted to find out for myself…
How Did the Challenge Start?

According to my research, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started with a man named Peter Frates. If you’ve never heard the name Peter Frates, well, it’s probably because he’s not particularly famous, although he was a captain of the Boston College baseball team in 2007. He was also the BC Director of Baseball Operations. I say “was” because Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012.

The fact he is still alive today is, in many ways, a minor miracle, considering 50% of patients diagnosed with ALS don’t make it past 18 months. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed on his 36th birthday. He didn’t make it to see 38. That’s what this disease is all about. It attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing complete devastation to the human body. Eight out of 10 people diagnosed with the disease are dead within five years.

Today, Frates is in a wheelchair, just seven years after he was racing around the outfield shagging fly balls as a Division I college baseball player. According to the Boston Globe, Frates got the idea for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from another man, Patrick Quinn, a 31-year-old New York resident with ALS who gets his medical treatment in Boston. Frates and Quinn met online, but the challenge really took flight in late July when Frates posted a Facebook video of himself being doused with ice water while he sat in his wheelchair.

The video has been liked over 15 million times on Facebook,and the challenge has started a craze across the country, with everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Justin Timberlake to LeBron James to Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football team posting videos of themselves being soaked with ice cold water. (My personal favorite is Bill Gates.) LeBron also challenged President Barack Obama on Sunday, while LeBron’s teammate Mike Miller has challenged Johnny Manziel and Dan Gilbert to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

What is ALS?

The disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, comes from the Greek words for “no muscle nourishment” and is a neurodegenerative disease that effects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, attacking a person’s voluntary functions. More specifically, it is a mutation of the gene that protects the body from harmful mitochondria.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy.

When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

In the case of Lou Gehrig, his ability started to rapidly deteriorate in the spring of 1939. A career .340 hitter and former Triple Crown winner, Gehrig hit just .143 that April and collapsed on the field during a spring training game in Florida. After playing in a then MLB-record 2,130 straight games, the man nicknamed the “Iron Horse” would play in just eight games during his final season in the big leagues. He walked away from the game just seven home runs shy of 500 for his career and less than two years later, one of baseball’s most feared hitters was dead at the young age of 37.

It has been 75 years since the Yankee great declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” Gehrig’s famous farewell speechat Yankee Stadium would eventually bring awareness to the disease, but today,the ALS Association in the US says that about 30,000 people have the incurable fatal disease that mostly kills men aged 40 and older. Although the cause of ALS is not completely understood, the recent years have brought a tremendous amount of new scientific understanding regarding the physiology of this disease. While there is still no cure or treatment today that halts or reverses ALS, there is one FDA approved drug, riluzole, that modestly slows the progression of ALS as well as several other drugs in clinical trials that hold promise.

The goal of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is to raise money for research and awareness for a disease that was largely unknown to many Americans just a month ago.

How Can I Make a Difference?

Get involved in the challenge.

That’s really the simplest and most effective way to make a fast impact. You can donate $100 (or more) to the ALS Association or other ALS charities, or you can spread the word to your friends and family by dumping a bucket of ice water on your head.

Some people have suggested the ALS Ice Water Challenge is more of a popular social media trend for people who want to challenge their friends to do something extreme on video, than an effective way to raise awareness. Maybe so. Most of the videos I’ve seen don’t mention anything about the disease other than the initials ALS, however, a month ago I would never have considered writing an article about ALS, or really even known what the letters stood for.

Thanks to the challenge from Britney Strouf, I was determined to find out whether the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was actually making a difference, or if it was just a social fad without any real impact. The good news is, we are making a difference. According to their press release on Wednesday, the ALS Association has raised a staggering $31.5 million in donations in the last month, up from $1.9 million raised during the same period last year. That includes donations from 637,527 new donors and counting.

“It’s very difficult to fundraise because most people havenever heard of ALS and it’s a very complex disease to discuss and explain,” Lance Slaughter, head of fundraising for the ALS Association, told The Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t have survivors of this disease.”

Which is why they need us to keep spreading the word. Keep challenging your friends. Keep donating to the cause. Keep making a difference.

About The ALS Association

The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front. By leading the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through Certified Treatment Centers of Excellence, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure. For more information about The ALS Association, visit our website at www.alsa.org.

Click here to donate to the ALS Association.