Living Like Lou

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(BluePrints Photo)

Anna Minton

BY DESTINY BRADEN (’17)

Live Like Lou. This was the advice given by Neil Alexander in his speech at Denison. Neil was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS.  Though many people know of this disease from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, not many people know what it actually is. It is a neurodegenerative disease, in which the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord progressively degenerate. Gradually, a person with ALS loses control of various parts of their bodies and eventually, they lose the power to eat, talk, and finally the muscles around their lungs stop working properly and they can’t breathe. Neil was in the middle stages of ALS, his speech was garbled and he couldn’t move around the stage without the help of a customized, high-tech wheel chair.  Though his neck was too weak to hold his head up, his words were strong enough to captivate an entire room of teenagers and college students.

Alexander announced to the audience that he recently lost the ability to brush his own teeth. He needed help getting dressed and he needed his wife to feed him. Neil has to go through life with the knowledge that his body if slowly deteriorating and eventually, the muscles around his lungs will stop working and he will die. The life expectancy after diagnosis is a measly two to five years. He go through life with this knowledge and yet, he still states that there are people worse off than him.  The most emotion Neil showed throughout the speech was not while talking about his hardships, but when he was talking about the “many people who didn’t get a chance to have a family” because of ALS.

Alexander told the audience about Lou Gehrig, an amazing baseball player with ALS. His record for most consecutive games played (2,130) remained for 56 entire years. He expressed admiration towards him and explained that he was a true athlete, despite having ALS. He kept play, and only broke his impressive streak when he could no longer swing a bat. Even though his body was slowly deteriorating, and he could no longer do what he loved, Lou considered himself “ the luckiest man on the face of the earth” which he stated in his famous speech. He even went as far as saying, ” I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

This is why Neil Alexander believes we should Live Like Lou.  Though he lost not only his dream, but his independence to take care of himself, Lou Gehrig thought he was the luckiest man alive.  This was what Alexander wanted us to take from his speech, and as he finished talking, the audience burst into applause.