It is not unusual to hear a professional athlete referred to as a hero. On September 25, 2006, when New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason blocked a punt in the first home game played in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina, some labeled him a hero. I agree that Steve Gleason is a hero, but I think he was labeled as such about five years too early.
After watching the documentary Gleason, in my eyes, Steve became a hero in 2011. This is when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This neuromuscular disease is almost always fatal, and it ravages the body, while leaving the mind intact. As his wife, Michel, says, “It’s a mind fuck.”
Shortly after being diagnosed with ALS, Steve and Michel learned that they were expecting their first child. This news was the impetus for Steve’s video journal that he began recording for their son, Rivers, to teach him everything he can about life and about himself. Thankfully, he and Michel decided to share some of the 5 years of footage in a documentary format, because we all can learn so much from Steve and are better off for getting to know him and his family.
What unfolds on the big screen is an intense, raw, and riveting story that both broke my heart and bolstered my spirits, as I alternated between crying and laughing. The depiction of the toll that ALS takes on Steve physically, emotionally, and spiritually, along with how it affects his relationships with Michel and his father, is as real as it gets. It’s difficult to watch, because it’s a true story that doesn’t end when the credits roll and the lights go up. Their fight continues off-screen.
Even though it has been several days since I left the theater, Steve, Michel, and Rivers have stayed with me. I find myself recalling scenes from the film and reflecting on their lives, my life, and life in general. The powerful words and images continue to overwhelm me, and I am in awe of how much the human mind, body, and spirit can endure.
When Steve is diagnosed, he takes an already full and rich life to another level. He focuses on improving his relationships, being a great dad for his son, helping others who are fighting ALS, and doing some of the things that he always wanted to do, like take a trip to Alaska. He does all of these things while fighting a deadly disease that robs him of his ability to walk, talk, move, and breathe on his own. He shares moments of utter anguish and debilitating pain alongside times of great love and laughter, and in the process, he becomes a true hero.
Heroes have a way of inspiring others to rise to their own level of greatness, and Steve certainly does just that. I exited the theater with tear-soaked cheeks and a deeply touched heart, but more importantly, I left with a renewed resolve to find ways to live my life even more fully and authentically, without excuses, reservations, or limits.
For Steve and everyone who is fighting ALS and for my paternal grandfather and the brothers of my friends, Laura and Amy, whose fight with ALS has ended, I invite you to learn more about how to support these heroes by visiting Team Gleason and going to see Gleason. No white flags!!!
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story