“No White Flags”: Part 1 of 4

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‘No White Flags’: Team Gleason’s battle with ALS Part 1

by Brian Belko on 01/29/2013 at 8:00 am

Throughout his life, Steve Gleason has been known as many things. Special teams stalwart for the New Orleans Saints of the NFL, symbol of renewal for a storm-ravaged city, generous philanthropist, and fearless adventurer. He is now taking on his biggest challenge yet; being the beacon of hope for anyone who is affected by the neuro-muscular disease commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

New Orleans Saints Facility in Metairie

Steve was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, in January of 2011. However, his remarkable story begins well before that.

The date was September 26, 2005 and Monday Night Football was in New Orleans for the game between the hometown Saints and the visiting Atlanta Falcons. It would be the first game played in New Orleans, and more specifically, in the Superdome since the devastation following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina.

Twenty-one months had passed since the last Saints home game and the people of New Orleans needed something to provide them with hope that the future still held great things for their beloved city. Steve provided that source of hope with what has been called ‘The greatest play in New Orleans Saints’ history.’

With the Atlanta Falcons set to punt the ball in the first quarter, Steve rocketed through the center of the Falcon’s line and launched himself towards the kicker. With a shot that echoed throughout the stadium, Steve’s outstretched hands collided with the ball as he managed to block the punt. One of his teammates picked the deflected ball off the surface of the turf and ran it into the end zone for the first home touchdown of the post-Katrina Saints.

kick

Steve’s play resulted in the crowd absolutely erupting in sound as they cheered not only for the touchdown, but also for the new hope they had just received for the future. That play became so symbolic to the city that it was forever preserved in the form of a bronze statue in front of the stadium.

Just as that statue will never be tarnished or destroyed, so is the same for Steve’s spirit and his eagerness to live life to the fullest despite the challenges that are thrown his way.

The same year of that brilliant play, Steve was honored as the “Special Teams Player of the Year” in the NFL. He played all seven years of his professional career for the Saints and the city came to mean a lot to him in that time. It provided him with a place to play professional football, amazing friendships, and it was even the city in which he met his wife.

Combining his love for the city of New Orleans and his desire to help others, Steve made sure to do all that he could to give back.

In 2003, Steve created the One Sweet World Foundation, a charity focused on literacy and environmental issues. Following Hurricane Katrina, he helped to launch a program called “Backpacks for Hope” which aimed to provide young hurricane victims with relief in the form of school supplies. That program ended up donating over 7,000 backpacks full of supplies to local children.

In addition to those programs, Steve also made sure to visit children at New Orleans Children’s Hospital as often as he could. He also frequently donated his trademark long hair to “Locks of Love”, an organization which provides wigs to children who lost their hair due to cancer treatments and other illnesses resulting in hair loss.

His sheer amount of charity work and willingness to give back says a lot about Gleason as a person.

“He has a glow about him, a way of touching those around him, and a way of maximizing every single minute of each day. It’s contagious.”

Those are the words of Scott Fujita, one of Steve’s former teammates from the Saints and one of his closest friends, when asked what makes Steve so different and special.

2011 New Orleans Saints Regular Season

Scott and Steve became friends during the same year as the now legendary blocked punt. They have since grown extremely close. Besides his own family, Scott was one of the first people that Steve told about his diagnosis of ALS. That close bond has only gotten stronger as time has passed and Scott is willing to do whatever it takes to help Steve as he fights the ruthless disease.

One of Steve’s biggest personality traits is his sense of adventure. He is always up for trying new things and getting the most out of life that he possibly can. Some of his pastimes have included surfing, fishing, snowboarding, and playing guitar. He also traveled extensively all over the globe during every offseason while in the NFL. Notable destinations have included Greece, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Australia, and Nepal.

Many people who are faced with a diagnosis such as Steve’s will allow it to tell them what they can or cannot do in life. Steve is not one of those people. Despite how dramatically his outlook on life had changed on that fateful day in January, Steve refused to allow it to dictate his future.

The same year of his diagnosis, Steve and his wife planned an extensive road trip that would take them from New Orleans on a winding route along the West Coast and eventually into Alaska. That is the type of trip that many people desire to take, but few ever follow through on. Steve completed the trip in the same year as learning that he had ALS which speaks volumes about his character and his drive in life. They called it The Shunpike Experiment and they took it in what they called the “Ironhorse”, a retro-fitted utility van designed for off-road camping.

Courtesy of TeamGleasonExperience.org

Courtesy of TeamGleasonExperience.org

The couple also decided to have a child together despite Steve’s diagnosis and welcomed their son Rivers into the world in October 2011. You can also add finishing his MBA from Tulane University to the list of his accomplishments he made following his diagnosis. Those are a lifetime of achievements for most people and Steve did them all while battling a disease that doctors told him would eventually take his life.

Steve has taken that philanthropic spirit, love of life, and dedication to helping others and put it all into his ALS-focused foundation known as Team Gleason. Once the symbol of renewal to an entire city, Steve now finds himself as the main beacon of hope for the thousands of people around the world who also have ALS.

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of the four part series ‘No White Flags’ and learn more about ALS and the challenges it creates for the people it affects.

Full story at: http://www.bonfireimpact.com/2013/01/29/no-white-flags-how-nfls-scott-fujita-and-steve-gleason-are-teaming-up-to-change-the-perceptions-of-als-part-1/

Filed in: Press Room • Thursday, January 31st, 2013
 

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About

Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more