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Challenge Accepted

BC's Frates Helps Inspire Internet Phenomenon

09/04/14
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With the help of family and friends, Pete Frates '07 took the Ice Bucket Challenge at Fenway Park. (Photo by Getty Images)

By Michael Maloney | Special to the Chronicle

Published: Sept. 4, 2014

He may not have invented the Ice Bucket Challenge, but Director of Boston College Baseball Operations Pete Frates ’07 has surely played a big role in putting it on the map around the world.

The grassroots campaign to spark awareness and raise funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has redefined the word “viral.”  The Ice Bucket Challenge [#IceBucketChallenge] has taken over social media, with seemingly countless videos and photos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and challenging friends and relatives to do the same. Professional athletes, pop stars, politicians and other celebrities – ranging from George W. Bush and Patrick Stewart to Lady Gaga and Kermit the Frog – have joined the effort.

A former baseball captain for the Eagles, Frates knows all too well about ALS: He was diagnosed with it in 2012, at age 27. But he has been active in the fight against the terminal disease that affects an estimated 30,000 Americans at any given time. His participation in the Ice Bucket Challenge seemed so appropriate, the perception arose in some quarters that he had come up with the idea.

In fact, as Slate writer Josh Levin explained in his article about the Ice Bucket Challenge, the exact origin of the phenomenon involves a complex interweaving of several other charitable efforts, and also has roots in longstanding traditions like the Polar Bear Plunge.

Levin points to golfer Chris Kennedy as the one who, in taking the icy shower on July 14, specifically linked the challenge to ALS. Among those inspired to follow Kennedy’s lead was Patrick Quinn, a Yonkers, NY, native diagnosed with ALS and a good friend of Frates. Through Quinn, Frates took up the challenge, with the assistance of family and friends.

Then Frates put the call out to his Facebook friends to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, including people from the network he’d cultivated during his treatment – people like New England Patriots Tom Brady and Julian Edelman, Red Sox owner John Henry and player Will Middlebrooks, and BC alumni husband-wife duo the Ryans, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt and Sarah, who works for the WNBA Atlanta Dream. They accepted his challenge and nominated other high-profile personalities to raise awareness for the ALS cause, and the momentum grew.

With the Frates family ties to BC – his parents John and Nancy, sister Jennifer and wife Julie (who gave birth to their daughter Lucy on Sunday) are all alumni – the University community also rose to the challenge. From July 29 to Aug. 25, the University’s official Facebook and Twitter channels received 17.2 million impressions – the number of times a post is displayed – including more than 6.5 million on Facebook alone just on Aug. 7.

How the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge began is less important to Frates and his family than the results it has achieved: The ALS Association announced last Friday that it had received $100.9 million in donations, compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29), and $64 million for all of 2013.

“Something miraculous is happening,” said John Frates last week, “and it’s happening partly because Pete was willing to put himself out there and willing to share his story. When the face of ALS is a handsome, young, charismatic, former Division 1 baseball player, the nation and even the world are waking up to the unacceptability of not having a treatment for this debilitating disease.”

Another compelling part of Pete’s story, says John, is his determination to stay connected to the sport he has loved for so long. Pete was named director of baseball operations the day after his diagnosis by head coach Mike Gambino, who was an assistant during Pete’s career. Pete is in the dugout for every baseball game, sharing his experiences with the team.

“Being a part of the baseball team for the last two years has been an incredible experience for Pete,” said John.

The snowball effect of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and the support that has come with it, illustrate for the Frates family how a simple act can make a big difference.

“It’s truly a miracle,” John said.