River Cities

Ice Bucket Challenge catches on in River Cities area, All Angels Academy

When do water and ice catch on like wildfire? When it’s the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” 

By now, you probably have heard about the viral fundraising campaign for the ALS Association as it has quickly made its way across the country and the world. Our own River Cities area residents have been keen to step up for the frigid soak, all for a good cause. 

In case you somehow missed this news, it works like this: Someone nominates, or challenges, another person to either be doused with a bucket of ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association, although often both are done. The event should be recorded on video. The participant has 24 hours to act from the time he or she is nominated. 

The craze has been embraced by everyday folks and celebrities alike, including entrepreneur Bill Gates, entertainer Jennifer Lopez, and former President George W. Bush, to name a few. Judging by local social media posts, there have been many River Cities participants, and there are no signs of the campaign slowing down. A cursory look at Facebook and YouTube show area residents partaking in the icy plunge in backyards, beaches, and even at work. 

City Manager Ron Gorland joined teachers and staff at All Angels Academy in Miami Springs in a group Ice Bucket Challenge event on Aug. 25. It was perhaps the largest to take place in the River Cities area, with at least 15 daring to brave the icy water at once, and in the pouring rain.

“We thought it would be a good ‘icebreaker’ activity — no pun intended — to start the year and raise money for a good cause,” said Academic Dean Terry Alexander. “It was a great bonding activity for our teachers, and in the end a win for ALS research.”

The social movement was inspired by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player who lives with ALS. Just four weeks ago, a friend created the challenge in his honor to raise awareness about ALS. Frates was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012. He has since lost his ability to walk, speak and swallow. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is marked by the progressive degeneration of motor neurons, resulting in loss of muscle movement and gradual paralyzation of the body. The condition eventually leads to death. In the United States there are 30,000 people with ALS, with over 5,000 new cases reported each year. 

With local residents keeping the challenge going, they can be sure to take some credit in the massive success of the campaign. Not only is the freezing fad increasing public awareness of the disease, but it has also raised an unprecedented amount of funds for research and care for those affected by ALS. 

According to the national ALS Association, as of Aug. 24, $70.2 million has been donated since the start of the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 29. During the same time period last year, the organization received $2.5 million. No one is more surprised than the Association, which is the unwitting but grateful recipient of this fundraising phenomenon. 

“We are amazed,” said Alissa Gutierrez, director of marketing and communications of the Florida Chapter of the ALS Association in Tampa. “ALS has not gotten this kind of attention since Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939, 75 years ago.”

Baseball hero Lou Gehrig played for the New York Yankees for 17 years and enjoyed many achievements and records. He was diagnosed at age 36 with ALS and passed away two years later, in 1941.

“I truly believe this has forever changed the way nonprofit organizations will raise funds,” added Gutierrez. “The viral nature of social media has spread awareness faster than ever possible before. We think it’s brilliant.”

In many cases, taking the Ice Bucket Challenge is a family affair, such as with Miami Springs resident Melissa Matheis. 

“My husband, 4-year-old son, and I have all done the Ice Bucket Challenge,” said Matheis. “The first time, we did the traditional ice bucket dump, and also donated to the ALS Association. The second time, we added a twist and dumped 10 buckets over our heads and did a burpee (squat thrust) in between each.”

The cause is personal for Matheis. 

“My father passed away in 1996 from ALS, so this is close to our hearts. I have been helping to spread awareness and encourage the challenge these last few weeks. Including educating those who have been opposed to it.”

Indeed, the Ice Bucket Challenge has some detractors, from those who say that it wastes water, is gimmicky and self-promoting, promotes animal testing, or those who have opposition to embryonic stem cell research used in ALS research. But these reservations do not deter those who have been personally affected by the devastating disease. 

“My dad lost his battle with ALS in September 2010,” said Lisa Rivero McDaniel. Her father was former Miami Springs police officer Robert “Bob” Rivero. He served with the Miami Springs Police Department from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

“It is heartbreaking to witness a person with ALS decline and suffer,” continued McDaniels. “I am a hospice social worker and have witnessed many persons with ALS lose their autonomy and eventually their life. It brings a smile to my heart that the ice bucket challenges are raising awareness and funds to hopefully one day find a cure for ALS. My dad was always laughing and joking. I know my dad is smiling down and having a good laugh watching the ice bucket challenges!”

To donate to the ALS Association Florida Chapter, visit www.alsafl.org — with or without the ice bucket.