Note: The website address was printed incorrectly in the original story. The URL has been updated.
By Mary O’KEEFE
The Ice Bucket Challenge is not a new phenomenon – it has been used to call attention to a number of organizations – but for some reason in July the challenge took off. The difference was the Ice Bucket Challenges were made in support of ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The ALS challenge found a voice and traction via social media.
How it works: First someone names you for the Ice Bucket Challenge. You decide to accept the challenge and someone pours ice water over your head. You then challenge others and – this is the most important part of the challenge – you make a donation to the ALS Association of $10. If those who do not want a bucket of ice water dumped over them, the challenge is to donate $100.
How much the challenge has raised: As of yesterday the challenge has raised $94.3 million since July 29 for the ALS Association. This is compared to last year when fundraising, without the challenge during the same time period, was $2.7 million.
Who has taken the challenge locally: It seems like just about everyone. On Friday, staff at Crescenta Valley High and Lincoln Elementary schools met the challenge.
During morning snack, CVHS Principal Linda Junge, Assoc. Principal Christine Benitez and assistant principals John Eldred and Forest Holbrook took the Ice Bucket Challenge.
“I am doing this in memory of my friend Mike Casten,” Junge said.
Junge had met Casten while at the Glendale Unified School District offices. He passed away last year of ALS.
To get the student body involved in the challenge, the Associated Student Body gathered the Falcon football team members for an obstacle race that included hula-hoops and swim fins. Those who arrived at the ice bucket first dumped the water onto their principal/assistant principal’s head.
Holbrook, wearing a swim cap, was the first to be drenched, followed by Junge, then Eldred, whose challenge outfit included a mask and snorkel, and finally the ice bucket came to Benitez.
“That was freezing,” Junge said.
“It was way colder than I thought it would be,” Eldred added.
Junge challenged Coach Paul Schilling and the entire CVHS Falcon varsity foothill team.
Later that day Principal Stephen Williams at Lincoln Elementary School fulfilled his challenge, which had expanded to several of his staff including physical education teacher Janet Goliger.
“Some sixth graders came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Williams, do you know about this ice bucket challenge for ALS?’” Williams said. “They said I should do it, so I said yes.”
Williams sent out a challenge email and Goliger in turn challenged others. In the end, 10 members of Lincoln’s staff took up the challenge.
Being Lincoln Lions, the student body did more than just dump cold water. Teachers talked to their students about ALS and what the challenge was about, and they held a one-day fundraiser Friday morning.
“We got pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars,” Williams said of the response.
The students had donated over $270. The name of each student who donated wrote his or her name on a piece of paper that was placed in a bucket. Ten names were then pulled from the bucket and those students were given a full water and ice bucket to dump over their principal, teachers and staff.
“And it is a very good day to do it,” said one student. “It is hot.”
The Lincoln staff sat on a grassy area of the campus and the buckets were tipped over their heads to the screams and cheers of the student body.
Avalon Burzynski, 8, was one of the lucky chosen ones.
“I dunked water over the gym teacher,” she said.
The water didn’t discriminate, either. Over splash gave Avalon a feel for how cold the water was, but she didn’t mind.
“It was so exciting to get picked,” she said.
With all of the attention, it is important to remember what this challenge is about.
For those of a certain age, and others who know their baseball history, Lou Gehrig was a Hall of Fame baseball player who 75 years ago made a legendary goodbye speech to baseball at Yankee Stadium. Gehrig had been diagnosed with ALS, which is also now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans,” Gehrig said in that 1939 speech.
Two years later he died of the progressive neurodegenerative disease. ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
“Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. 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,” according to the ALS Association website.
Fred Fisher, president and CEO of the ALS Association Golden West Chapter, said the Ice Bucket Challenge was not planned by his organization and, in fact, he only heard about it after someone sent him a link from social media.
“Pete Frates decided to do [the challenge] for ALS,” said Fisher. “He was the first person to post it online and to challenge someone else to do it.”
Frates, 29, is a former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS when he was 27 years old. He combined efforts with his friend Pat Quinn, 31, who has also been diagnosed with ALS, for the challenge start up. The movement grew when golfer Chris Kennedy posted his Ice Bucket Challenge in honor of his cousin Anthony Senerchia, who has lived for over 10 years with ALS.
“Pete, along with Pat Quinn, and Jenette and Anthony Senerchia [have shown] commitment to our cause and have inspired the nation,” Fisher said.
The challenge took off with celebrities posting alongside non-celebrities.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has its critics, from those who disagree with the method of research used by the ALS Association to those who feel it is making light of a serious subject.
“To those critics who say this is making light of a terrible disease, I would remind them that a person who is suffering from [ALS] first posted the challenge,” he said. “People like supporting a cause and having a good time doing it.”
Fisher said according to Google analytics, the fourth most searched topic is now ALS. He feels that the word is getting out about this progressive neurodegenerative disease and for that he is grateful.
As for the research, Fisher said that in general the public has a narrow view of research.
“It is not just in the lab,” he said. “The cure for ALS will not be found in a test tube but in the people who are suffering from [the disease].”
Fisher added there are many clinical trials that are part of research and for those there are many volunteers who are suffering from ALS.
The funds being raised from the challenges are for research and to support those who are suffering with ALS.
“It is estimated that [about] 30,000 people [in the U.S.] are living with ALS, [and] about 5,600 are diagnosed each year with the disease,” Fisher said.
The numbers stay consistent each year because of the ALS death rate.
“If you are over 40, your lifetime risk of being [diagnosed with ALS] is one in 800. And veterans [are diagnosed with] ALS twice as often as anyone else,” Fisher said.
The reason veterans are at such high risk is one of the research areas ALS Association is looking into.
As for the Ice Bucket Challenge, it continues to grow. It is Fisher’s hope that the momentum will not stop when the challenge phenomenon ends. There are several options to help those with ALS including the Walk to Defeat ALS that will be held in Los Angeles County on Oct. 29 at Exposition Park beginning at 9 a.m.
“We are just grateful that people are responding to the challenge, are learning about ALS and are participating in what is a historical event for ALS, for the Internet, for social and mass media and for philanthropy,” Fisher said. “But if you would have suggested, ‘I have an idea. Why [not] have people pour a bucket of water over their head to raise money for ALS?’ I would have said you are out of your mind.”
To find Ice Bucket Challenges, enter #icebucketchallenge on YouTube. To find out more about the ALS Association and the Walk to Defeat ALS, visit www.ALS-IceBucketChallenge.org or www.alsagoldenest.org