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Lou Gehrig Remembered

June 2, 2011

On June 2, 1941, America lost one of its greatest heroes to a disease that would become synonymous with his name.  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) thereafter would be known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Gehrig played with the New York Yankees for 17 years and received the moniker “The Iron Horse” due to his ability to play baseball despite suffering from a variety of injuries.

Lou GehrigBorn in New York City to the son of German immigrants, Heinrich and Christina Gehrig, Gehrig attended Columbia University on a football scholarship to study engineering, yet he also played the sport for which he is best known during his tenure at the Ivy League school.  A baseball scout signed Gehrig to the Yankees in 1923 due to his remarkable hitting skills.  Gehrig held various positions on the team until his retirement.  These included shortstop and outfielder; however, many know him best as the Yankees’ first baseman.

Gehrig garnered many achievements in his career.  He hit 493 home runs, maintains the record for the most grand slams in a career (23), and established a record for playing 2,130 consecutive professional baseball games.  The Yankees also made him the first athlete to have a retired “number.”  Since Gehrig’s 1939 retirement, nobody on that team has played with the numeral “4” on his baseball jersey.

He was diagnosed with ALS on his 36th birthday during a visit with his wife Eleanor to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota on June 19, 1939.  Prior to his diagnosis, Gehrig noticed several of the disease’s symptoms while playing on the field, which included a loss of strength, slipping and falling, and loss of coordination.

Shortly after his diagnosis, Gehrig chose to retire from baseball.  The Yankees designated July 4, 1939 “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium and honored its former first baseman for his sportsman-like behavior and dedication to the game.  On this day, nearly 62,000 fans listened to Gehrig as he gave his famous speech where he deemed himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

The ALS Association celebrates the way Gehrig lived his life as a devoted team mate, husband, son and friend.  He, like other modern heroes fighting ALS, chose to enjoy each of life’s moments with courage and grace.

Today, 30,000 courageous individuals facing Lou Gehrig’s Disease live in the U.S.  Some of these people include Leslie Perry, an educator, writer and storyteller who lives at The Alhambra, a retirement community east of Los Angeles, California; nurse Janie Garris of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who is losing her ability to speak but continues to serve as a voice for others fighting ALS; Wellsville, New York-resident Debra Quinn who continues to work tirelessly in educating Members of Congress and the people in her community about the impact Lou Gehrig’s Disease has on patients and their families; and professional golfer Chadwick

“Chad” Poole whose ALS-related fundraising activities with his wife Erin and children Maggie and Nicklaus have inspired others battling the disease in South Carolina.  All of these people—like Lou Gehrig—refuse to allow ALS to inhibit their lives. 

The ALS Association is dedicated to raising awareness about the disease that took Lou’s life and then his name.  Some of the activities planned in the coming months include Speak Out Against ALS, a new radio campaign that will include interviews and discussion about ALS in 12 to 15 cities across the country.  Speak Out

Against ALS will be expanded to additional cities in the future.  For more information about Speak Out Against ALS, visit www.speakoutagainstals.org.

Kicking off the Speak Out Against ALS radio marathon season is the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Chapter on June 2.  The Chapter has partnered with two local radio stations, 99.9 the Fan and 620 AM The Buzz, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to raise awareness for this devastating disease.  Tune in and hear heroic stories from those living with ALS and caregivers.  Listeners are asked to join in the fight for a cure by calling, texting, or logging online to make a donation.  The programing also will stream live at http://espntriangle.com.

In conjunction with Speak Out Against ALS, The Association will again participate in the “Covering All the Bases – 4ALS Campaign,” where Association Chapters partner with Major and Minor League Baseball teams across the nation to commemorate the anniversary of Gehrig’s famous “luckiest man” speech and to honor the people and families who live with ALS everyday.

The Association will soon launch the “Hope is a good thing!” shirt campaign in partnership with Muze Clothing, who specializes in raising awareness for non-profit organizations by designing T-shirts that use famous movie phrases, such as this line from “The Shawshank Redemption,” to focus attention on worthy causes.  This campaign was inspired and developed with help from hundreds of people in the ALS community, who submitted hopeful statements that were incorporated into the shirt’s design.

In addition, The Association recently launched a program whereby families provide photos videos and statements to create special web pages to celebrate a special person who has been touched by Lou Gehrig’s Disease called The ALS Promise Fund.  To view the web pages of the families currently participating in this program, visit http://www.alspromise.org.

As we reflect on Lou Gehrig and all that he accomplished in his short life, we honor those who are currently battling this disease and reaffirm our pledge to continue the quest to create a world without ALS.

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Lou Gehrig® used with permission of the Rip Van Winkle Foundation / www.LouGehrig.com