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Understanding ALS and the ALS Pepper Challenge

In 2014, the social media phenomenon known as the Ice Bucket Challenge arrived, challenging people to dump ice water on their heads to raise funds and awareness for the neurological disease known as ALS. With athletes and celebrities joining in on the fun, the campaign was a success raising over $100 million in just eight weeks. A portion of the funding went towards Project MinE, an organization that was able to identify a gene responsible for ALS.

While the Ice Bucket Challenge may be a thing of the past, ALS remains an underfunded disease. Fortunately a new social media campaign has restarted the conversation and is once again bringing light to ALS and its associated challenges.

Recently Patty Haberstroh, mother of basketball writer Tom Haberstroh, was diagnosed with ALS. Patty, Tom, and the rest of the Haberstroh family opted to turn the tables on ALS and the Ice Bucket challenge. Together they started the ALS Pepper Challenge in order to raise funds for the ALS Therapy Development Institute.

Tom has long been a friend of InStreetClothes.com. He was one of the first national writers to publicly support my work and remains a constant sounding board for thoughts and ideas. In honor of him and Mrs. Patty, I have pledged to help raise awareness for those afflicted with ALS by educating about the disease on InStreetClothes.com, making a donation here, and yes, consuming a hot pepper.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease that attacks the spinal cord and the nerve cells of the brain. There are multiple types of neurons in the brain and throughout the body, including sensory and motor. Sensory neurons aid in the transmission of information linked to an individual’s senses like sight and sound. Motor neurons, as their name suggests, are involved with muscle movement. Some motor neutrons work involuntarily as muscles in the heart and digestive system act automatically and without a direct command. Other motor neurons depend on an individual choosing to act and are considered voluntary. These nerve cells come into play when you get out of bed, swing a baseball bat, or jump to snag rebound. Voluntary nerve cells also play a role in breathing.

ALS targets the voluntary motor neurons and causes them to degenerate. As a result, neurons can no longer perform their job and muscles can no longer function. A loss of function results in the muscle atrophying. Over time the degenerated neurons can be so ravaged by the disease that the affected individual becomes paralyzed. Victims in the latter stages of the disease begin to lose control of vital functions like swallowing and breathing.

Sadly ALS currently has no known cure at this time. Medications, specifically a drug known as riluzole, can help slow the progression of the disease in its early stages but is unable to stop the degeneration from occurring. Research and education on the disease is ongoing and that’s where the numerous donations collected by the Pepper Challenge come into play.

The sports world has been historically linked to ALS ever since Yankees great Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the condition in 1939. ALS forced Gehrig into retirement and claimed his life just two years later. The attention Gehrig’s diagnoses brought the condition is why ALS is often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Since Gehrig’s death in 1941 numerous other athletes have succumb or been diagnosed with ALS including former Cy Young Winner James “Catfish” Hunter and NBA Hall of Famer George Yardley. The Ice Bucket Challenge was even started by an athlete, former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates. The St. Louis Cardinals recently traded outfielder Stephen Piscotty to Oakland where he will be closer to his mother Gretchen. Gretched received an ALS diagnosis last season.

ALS has hit the NFL particularly hard with multiple players receiving diagnoses within the last decadeScientists and researchers are currently looking to any potential links between traumatic brain injuries sustained in sports and ALS and other neurodegenerative disease.

Just like in 2014, the outpour of support from the basketball community has been amazing.  Rachel Nichols, Paul Pierce, and Jackie MacMullan recently ate peppers on the set of ESPN’s The Jump. Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley repeated the challenge on TNT while Heat head coach Erik Spolestra took down two peppers in support of the cause.

I only managed one pepper but I’m happy to help support the cause. Get eating and start donating!

Movie on 1-29-18 at 12.34 PM Vimeo.