WASHINGTON, PA (Aug. 27, 2014)—With “Ice Bucket Challenges” flooding social media newsfeeds in support of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research, the Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) athletics staff figured it was only a matter of time before they’d have to ice down, too.
So when an email challenge from Chris Bluemle ’03, a respected alumnus with a personal connection to ALS arrived, it was with a mixture of excitement and honor that they accepted.
Bluemle, a former Presidents football player, lost his mother to ALS in 2005. He and fellow Baldwin-Whitehall High School graduate Joe Susan, who lost his mother to ALS in 2009, founded the Golf Fore ALS Tournament in support of ALS research as well as patient care and services. In the past five years, this event has raised more than $125,000 benefiting those afflicted with ALS.
Mark Lesako, Interim Co-Director of Athletics at W&J, said being nominated by one of his former W&J athletes made his participation more meaningful.
“I was honored to do it. I was actually really excited for it, especially knowing that we were doing it in honor of Chris’s mother,” Lesako said. “I know it’s for a good cause, and we want to show our students and student athletes that you can get involved and help people.”
The campaign to raise awareness and funds for ALS research is simple: once nominated, you have 24 hours to either make a donation to the ALS Association, or dump a bucket of ice water over your head – and then nominate others to do the same. Many participants, including celebrities and professional athletes, have done both. More than $94 million in donations has been raised, according to the ALS Association website.
Bluemle now sits on the Board of Directors for The ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter, and said he never imaged such a response to a social media request. The first challenge was made this summer by former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at age 27.
“You could have spent millions of dollars on a marketing campaign that would never have picked up speed and gained support like this has,” Bluemle said. “This opportunity has been transformative for ALS. It’s unprecedented. I don’t know how you could ever recreate this.”
As of Aug. 27, numerous members of the W&J athletics department have participated in the challenge, including Mark Lesako, head trainer Mike Lesako, basketball coaches Jina DeRubbo and Glenn Gutierrez, tennis coach Chris Faulk, head football coach Mike Siriani and the entire Presidents Football coaching staff.
Others on campus have received challenges and are taking up the task as well.
Mike Leonard, associate professor of chemistry, participated this week, and posted his video on the W&J Chemistry Facebook page. In turn, Leonard challenged Ronald Bayline, associate professor of biology and Michael McCracken, assistant professor of physics.
In addition to dousing themselves with ice, campus community members also are making individual donations to ALS charities. The gesture means everything to Bluemle.
“It has been very emotional for me these past few weeks,” he said. “Every day I wake up and I’m blown away by this. I don’t know what the lifespan of this is going to be, but each day is another day of increased awareness and much needed additional funding. It’s amazing.”
Bluemle said the national organization, The ALS Association, primarily supports research while each of the 38 local chapters – Washington, Pa. falls under The ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter – is primarily dedicated to patient care and services. Both the national and local chapters are accepting donations. More information is available at www.cure4als.org.
W&J Ice Bucket Challenges
W&J Football Coaches
Mike Lesako, Head Trainer
Mark Lesako, Interim Co-Director of Athletics
Jina DeRubbo and Glenn Gutierrez, Basketball Coaches
Chris Faulk, Head Tennis Coach
Mike Leonard, Chemistry Professor