Saturday, April 02, 2011

Bigger than Baseball by Sharon O'Donnell

This morning I participated with David, my 16-year-old son, in a fundraising Walk to fight ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, as it is commonly called. We did this same 2 mile Walk last year and really enjoyed doing it together. David did a report on ALS in middle school and became very interested in the disease, and in particular in Lou Gehrig who played baseball for the Yankees. David is also a baseball player, so I think Gehrig's heart-wrenching story resonated with him.

Everyone in our family is a Boston Red Sox fan since my husband's parents were raised in Lowell, MA right outside of Boston. Yet, David wanted to make the point that there are some things more important than sports and sports rivalries, such as healthThis Walk is part of the Catfish Hunter ALS district in North Carolina; Catfish Hunter, also a NY Yankee, was originally from North Carolina and died from ALS. The names Lou Gehrig and Catfish Hunter are both synonymous with the New York Yankees, the arch rival of the Red Sox; unfortunately, their names are also synonymous with ALS.

ALS is short for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a scary-sounding name wit devastating results. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Both Gehrig and Hunter died from the disease, and Gehrig’s battle against ALS was made into a movie called “The Pride of the Yankees.” During a speech at Yankee stadium he spoke those famous inspirational words: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Take a listen to it for some inspiration:

One of my relatives
, a great uncle named Claude Wilborn from Roxboro, N.C.,played minor league ball back in the late ‘30s and was called up to major league ball with the Boston Braves for the last month of the 1940 season. There's a photo we have of my great uncle with a fellow player, the Yankees team manager, and Lou Gehrig; this is a photo I’ve loved to look at over the years, and now it's a favorite of my son's.

Every 90 minutes in the United States, someone is diagnosed with ALS, and also every 90 minutes someone dies from this fatal disease. So this morning on a beautiful North Carolina spring day with the sun shining, David and I walked with thousands of other people to call attention to this disease and to raise money to fight it. Our dog, Fenway, our long-haired dachshund also walked with us, as the Walk is dog-friendly and many people brought their dogs with them. When Fenway walks, he is all business, nose to grindstone, or rather asphalt in this case, and walks FAST with his short little legs moving! He keeps his tail down and looks from side to side, trying to pass people in front of him. It's almost like he's in a race. David and I had to keep up with him, and many people made comments about Fenway's concentration and focus. Fenway was named after the legendary park where the Red Sox play baseball. He was born on October 27, 2004, the night the Sox finally broke the 80 year 'curse' and won the World Series.

So today had many elements of baseball involved, which I think would have pleased Gehrig and Hunter. But David's right: there are much bigger things than baseball. With the start of the major league season this past week, I think it's an appropriate time to remember that.


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