Pete Frates Dies at 34

If you don’t know who Pete Frates was, I hope you will not be able to say that in 10 minutes. Pete was the man behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that raised over $220 million for ALS. Pete was an above average athlete who captained the Boston College Eagle Baseball Team. While playing minor league baseball, he began to notice some disturbing physical changes. He went in for a few tests. A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with ALS.

He continued to live. He married his girlfriend and witnessed the first few years of his daughter’s life. He was determined to change the outcome of this disease – for him and others to come. Ultimately, he lost his life today. I felt it was worth a blog post.

Earlier this year, I wrote the Pete Frates chapter for the Student Athlete Program, a program designed to improve the character, leadership of sportsmanship of high school athletes. It was difficult to go through the chapter tonight and change everything to past tense.  This chapter doesn’t appear until the spring season, but I think it is timely to read about him today. I hope you agree that he is an amazing example of positive attitude. And, if you are in any position to do so, I hope you will donate money to the ALS Fund.

Pete Frates Positive Attitude

I’m going to change the face of this unacceptable situation of ALS. We’re going to move the needle and raise money to fight.”

If you had a Facebook account during the summer of 2014, it was impossible not to view one of the numerous Ice Bucket Challenge videos. In just two short months, this phenomenon had become the most successful social-media campaign in the history of the world. Seventeen million of these short videos were posted on Facebook. These videos were watched by 440 million people in 150 countries. Cumulatively, the Ice Bucket Challenge videos were viewed more than 10 billion times.

This is how it worked. A person would fill a bucket with some ice cubes and some water. This person would then dump the bucket of freezing water over her/his head. It was immediately followed with a familiar challenge that essentially said, “I am doing this to raise awareness for ALS. I challenge the following three people to do the same thing or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation or both. You have 24 hours.” This person then tagged three individuals in the Facebook video with the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

This movement quickly became a phenomenon. Close friends and family did it. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift did it. Athletes like Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, and Michael Jordan did it. You even saw former president George W. Bush posting a video in which he said, “I do not think it’s presidential for me to get splashed with ice water, so I’m simply going to write you a check.” Seconds later his wife Laura dowsed him with a bucket full of ice water saying “That check is from me.” The most watched video (12 million views) was provided by the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, principal founder of Microsoft, who was challenged by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. However, most of the seventeen million Ice Bucket Challenge videos were posted by everyday citizens who cared.

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $160 million for the ALS Foundation in just two months. To date, that number has ballooned to $220 million and is still growing. The idea was simple, it was fun, and it was effective. This movement changed the trajectory of research to cure ALS, a relatively obscure and very deadly muscle degenerative disease. Still, most people have no idea how this movement got started. Most have never heard the name, Pete Frates – the man behind the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Pete Frates was the second of three children of John and Nancy Frates. While still in elementary school, a physical education teacher grabbed Pete’s parents and said, “We call kids like Pete ‘One in Ten Thousand’.” Another teacher told his parents, “You know he has IT, you know that, right? He has IT.” What this educator and others were referring to is the right combination of compassion, athleticism, and leadership.

Pete was the classic 3-sport athlete who never specialized in one sport. During his senior year, he was the captain of the hockey team, football team and baseball team at St. John’s Prep in Beverly, Massachusetts. As he entered his senior year in high school, Pete sought an athletic scholarship to play baseball. He was determined to follow in his parents’ footsteps by attending Boston College. This, of course, was surprising news to head coach, Pete Hughes. “If the young man could not crack the starting lineup in high school,” he later said, “What were the chances that Pete could play at a D-1 program like Boston College?”

Little did this coach know that Pete would lead his Boston College team in home runs and stolen bases during his junior and senior years and eventually become team captain. As all of this played out, the coach developed a different view of Pete. “Pete brings a ton of energy to our team. He’s a leader and plays incredibly hard.”

Nevertheless, upon graduation, Pete went undrafted. He played in Europe for a while and then returned home to play for the Lexington Blue Sox, a semi-pro team just outside of Boston. Pete knew that he was never going to gear up for a major league team, but he couldn’t bring himself to give up the game he loved. He sold insurance by day and played baseball by night.

Then, early in the 2012 season, Pete’s batting average dropped by about 100 points. He began to notice other strange symptoms. He had trouble buttoning his shirt and holding silverware. He felt exhausted much of the time and his legs would give out on him for no apparent reason. In fact, one friend mistakenly thought Pete was drunk after he stumbled home from a local bar. Pete responded, “I wasn’t drunk last night. Something’s wrong. Something’s happening to me.”

Pete began scheduling medical appointments. After a battery of tests, the doctors asked Pete to come in to discuss their diagnosis. Pete asked his parents to join him. “I don’t know how to tell a twenty-seven-year-old this,” the doctor said. “Pete, you have ALS.” His parents asked the doctor for the treatment plan. “Mr. and Mrs. Frates,” the doctor began. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s no treatment and there’s no cure.” Pete’s mother ran out of the room and screamed “Oh my God! My son’s going to die.”

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which translates in Latin to “no muscle nourishment.” Most people know it as Lou Gehrig’s disease because the famous New York Yankee athlete was diagnosed with this disease in the prime of his career. On average fifteen people are diagnosed with this disease daily in the United States. The life expectancy of a person diagnosed with ALS is 1,000 days.

True to form, Pete maintained a positive attitude. He was determined to beat the disease. And once a leader, always a leader. Within a few days of his diagnosis, Pete gathered his family and set the tone. “What an amazing opportunity we now have to change the world,” Pete said. “I’m going to change the face of this unacceptable situation of ALS. We’re going to move the needle and raise money to fight.”

Just like he fought his way onto the Boston College baseball team, Pete finagled an appointment with one of the top ALS doctors in the world, Dr. Merit Cudkowicz. During the exam, Pete asked, “How close are you to finding a cure?” She responded by telling Pete that there was not enough money to properly research a cure. Pete asked directly “How much do you need.” Doctor Cudkowicz replied, “I don’t know, Pete. Probably a billion dollars.” Pete looked her in the eyes and said, “I’m going to get working on that.”

And, he did. Pete was never more focused than he was at that moment. Pete believed that this was his purpose in life. “There’s a reason why I’m so young and got diagnosed with it,” he said. “I want to get out there and captivate people and get some momentum for this disease. I’m going to change this disease forever.”

Pete maintained a positive attitude and kept living life to the fullest extent possible. He made a bucket list of things to do while he still had strength. He traveled. He bought a boat. He went to work for Boston College as the director of baseball operations. In June of 2013, Pete married his girlfriend, Julie. In 2014, Julie gave birth to their daughter, Lucy. Becoming a father meant everything to Pete. Lucy has become his purpose for living. Pete was determined to defy the odds and watch Lucy grow into a young woman.

In the summer of 2014, Pete watched a video of a friend dumping water on his own head. Pete smiled and said, “This is exactly what we’ve been waiting for. This is it!” Pete asked his brother, Andrew, to go to the gas station and buy a bag of ice. Andrew then ran out in the rain and dumped ice water over his head from a dirty trash can. He then challenged his dad and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was off and running. The videos started pouring in and Pete began “liking” each video on Facebook and tagging his vast array of powerful supporters. Some 17 million videos later, this phenomenon had raised $220 million dollars to help fight ALS. Amazing.

Please understand, this disease has not shown Pete Frates any mercy. ALS treated him like every other unlucky soul with this diagnosis. This 6’ 2’’ 225-pound young man suffered greatly. At first, his speech slurred, he fell frequently, and his fingers lost their agility. As time progressed, he needed a wheelchair. He could no longer feed or bathe himself. As the disease progressed, his organs broke down one by one. Pete lost his ability to speak, his ability to control his bowels, and his ability to breathe without assistance from a ventilator. As 2018 ended, Pete — a husband and father — was virtually a prisoner in his own body. He was unable to move or communicate. Pete required around-the-clock care costing his family about $90,000 a month on medical bills. Nothing about ALS is easy or fair. And, so, just like so many victims before him, on December 9, 2019, Pete Frates died.

Pete ultimately lost his battle with ALS, but his dream remains alive. Pete didn’t want one more person to be diagnosed with the death sentence known as ALS. Pete was irate that, over the 75 years since Lou Gehrig’s Disease became recognized widely by the public, its course and consequences have remained unchanged. As his former coach said, “It’s known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, but it will be known as Pete Frates’ cure.” It’s now up to us to keep the legacy of Pete Frates alive. If you have the ability to donate money to help fund a cure for ALS, please go to www.petefrates.com or http://www.alsa.org/donate/.

 

Comments 33

    1. I believe that Pete Frates will forever leave an impact on the world with his positive attitude and should receive more recognition for all that he has done. It is beautiful to see that he did not let this terrible disease prevent him from starting a family and living his life.

  1. I think Pete Frates opened many people’s eyes. He had a huge positive attitude for the state he was in. That made him well respected.

  2. I think what pete did was truly amazing. He set his mind out to do something and he did it. He is an inspiration to all and will be missed dearly

  3. I think that Pete Frates was an amazing person. this man was a true example of positive attitude and I wish that he would have lived longer. This man has put me in the position of, “Am I a good example of positive attitude?” This also leaves me to think about the power he had to inspire others. This is honestly the most inspiring blog I have ever commented to and read.

  4. Pete was truly a positive and inspirational person – his ability to stay optimistic despite tough challenges in his life is wonderful. I think we should all strive to be like Pete.

  5. This is really inspiring. He fought for his cause and wanted to make life better for others who suffer with the same cause, and that is really cool.

  6. He was a wonderful person who made a difference in this world and inspired billions of people to fight against this disease and help him throughout his life

  7. That kind of attitude and mentality is something that is very rare. Many people never have the chance to put it to good use and change the world the way Pete Frates has and will.

  8. I think it is inspiring that even after ALS he still went on to raise all the money and started such a popular challenge. All this along with a sports career and raising a family.

  9. Pete Frates’ story is an amazing one and one of perseverance through such a horrible disease. He can truly be looked up to as a role model of showing how to persevere through things we may find small as he did it through great suffering.

  10. I would say he is the true definition of not letting anything hold home back from his goals by any means. He showed that even having ALS that he wouldn’t let that stop him, he went even harder to accomplish every goal.

  11. I think this is a very inspiring story. Pete Frates is a very good example of someone who didn’t let a problem alter the way he wanted to live. Even though he had ALS, he still lived his life with a positive attitude.

  12. i think pete is very inspirational and always look for the light in everything, he always had a positive attitude and is very motivational.

  13. I remember doing the ALS ice bucket challenge when I was younger, and although it was more fun at the time, I remember learning about the cause and being happy that it was making an impact and it was for a good cause. I never really knew that Pete was behind this though, so it’s inspiring to finally learn about him.

  14. Pete was truly an inspiration and he fulfilled his goal of raising money to help fund ALS research. He will always be remembered.

  15. Pete was a true influence on many that suffer with terminal illness. He will never be forgotten for the effort that he put into funding research for his disease.

  16. He was truly a inspirational person through all of his personal troubles he fought through it and made everything worth while

  17. I think he has made an impact on everyone’s life even if you didn’t know him. He’s done an amazing thing that will forever be remembered

  18. I still remember like it was yesterday when Pete started the ALS challenge movement it gives me goosebumps what he did for the foundation

  19. I believe Pete was a very influential individual. Raising all of that money for ALS takes a special type of person and he was an influence to everybody around him.

  20. Pete showed so much perseverance and resilience throughout his life. He brought so much to the ALS community, and his legacy will live in

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