It was in 2011 that former Washington State Cougars linebacker and outfielder Steve Gleason was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs its victims of the use of their muscles. It has confined him to a wheelchair and rendered him unable to talk without the assistance of a computer.
And all he’s done in the decade since is change countless lives through his activism in the ALS community.
For that, Gleason was awarded the NCAA’s Inspiration Award, given annually to coaches, administrators, or former players “who, when confronted with a life-altering situation used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and most importantly, now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations.”
There’s probably not a better way to describe Gleason than that. The list of things he’s done for the ALS community are too numerous to name; calling him “a global leader in fundraising for and bringing awareness to the neurodegenerative disease,” as the NCAA did, somehow undersells his contribution.
WSU athletics director Pat Chun accepted the award on Gleason’s behalf at the NCAA Honors Celebration:
Gleason’s fight against the devastating effects of ALS has been marked throughout by a relentless optimism in spite of his challenging circumstances.
“I believe we are resilient beings, and we can make the choice to embrace and accept life’s experiences, no matter what. If we can do this, there is a strength within us that we didn’t previously recognize, a resilience to move through discontent and suffering,” he told the NCAA. “This resilience brings space and peace — a true freedom. Rather than allowing the struggle to consume me, I chose to accept the reality of my situation and then got innovative with any tools I could access to see and share the beauty in my life and transform myself to ultimately grow stronger.”
He also was reflective about the impact that his time at WSU had on him, thinking specifically of his former coaches Craig Bray and Bill Doba.
After Bray told Gleason he had pro potential, “I had the confidence that I could do anything I wanted in life, including play in the NFL,” said Gleason, who went on to play seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints. “I think about those words to this day. They remind me that I can still do anything I want in life.”
Doba showed Gleason the importance of trust.
“He was going to ask us to do some incredibly difficult tasks, take risks and be truthful in our faults. It was critical that we had relational trust,” Gleason said. “He put me in situations I thought I had no business in. He made me prove myself wrong.”
Somehow, it seems as if Gleason is still just getting started.
Yikes! I was just reminded that I was diagnosed with ALS 11 years ago, right at this time of the day.— Steve Gleason - "Live Impossible" (@SteveGleason) January 5, 2022
Eight years past my 'expiration date' - my aims & aspirations for this wonderful life. pic.twitter.com/YjsqpqZLc3
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