BEVERLY — Local politicians sat soaked by icy water at Monday’s homecoming ice cream social.
The drenched clothing of Mayor Mike Cahill and Rep. Jerald Parisella, D-Beverly, came 100 percent voluntarily, part of an Internet sensation in which people post online videos of themselves ice bathing in order to promote a cause.
In Beverly, the cause is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The condition has no known cure and robs its victims of their muscular faculties. Patients lose the use of their limbs and the ability to speak, swallow and, eventually, breathe.
In March 2012, doctors diagnosed Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball captain and Beverly resident. At that time, he was often fatigued and had trouble with small motor functions like shirt buttoning. By June 2014, Frates could hardly speak and could no longer use his hands. He wrote a story for the sports news site Bleacher Report with the help of eye-tracking software.
Frates’ column came 75 years after Lou Gehrig delivered a famous speech after his own diagnosis, declaring he was the “luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The emotional address put a face on ALS. Inspired by Gehrig and with his mind unaffected, Frates committed to raising awareness and funding for ALS almost immediately after his diagnosis.
Frates and his family set up the Pete Frates #3 Fund. He’s kept a blog and posted video segments to YouTube, promoting events and awareness and allowing viewers to see the rapid toll ALS takes.
“Pete Frates and family has done such a great job of raising awareness,” Parisella said. “You take a difficult situation and try to make a positive impact. It’s amazing how far this has spread.”
The ice bucket challenge concept originated with University of Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts in an early June effort to raise breast cancer awareness, according to USA Today.
The challenge is designed to spread exponentially. People who complete the challenge post a video online, naming their cause, getting drenched and challenging three more people, charging them with repeating the challenge.
While it started with breast cancer, the ice bucket dumping has spread across the Internet with celebrities like Martha Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Gregory Campbell, and Atlanta Falcon’s quarterback and Boston College alum Matt Ryan all “getting chilly for a cause.”
“It’s definitely gone viral,” said Lynn Aaronson, executive director of the ALS Association in Massachusetts. “There’s a tremendous online presence of the whole campaign.”
Since ALS received a celebrity name in Lou Gehrig, doctors and researchers have continued to work towards a cure, but little has changed for patients.
The disease is rare: two out of every 100,000 people develop the condition, according to the ALS Association. Those relatively small numbers mean many large drug companies are hesitant to tackle the neurodegenerative disease, though some have recently taken an interest.
But Frates remains motivated to live his life and educate others. His drive comes from the anticipation of his expecting wife, Julie, who is due in September, he said in the article.
“I may not be able to say ‘I love you’ with my own voice, but the love I will feel will be every bit as strong,” Frates wrote.
George LeVines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 617-942-1354.