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Tampa Bay Lightning

For Lightning pair, ALS challenge personal

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Published:   |   Updated: August 28, 2014 at 08:24 AM

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— All across North America during the past two months, millions of buckets filled with ice water have been dumped in the name of raising awareness for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Tampa Bay Lightning players and staff are among those who have taken part, including team owner Jeff Vinik, general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper. Others, such as new center Brian Boyle and associate coach Rick Bowness, have a personal stake in the social-media movement that has created $94.3 million in donations since July 29, compared to $2.7 million during the same period last year, according to the ALS Association.

As of Wednesday, the ALSA reported 2.1 million new donors have contributed to the association, with an average of $9 million per day coming in during the past week alone.

From an initial act initiated by former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at the age of 27, the campaign went viral quickly via Twitter and Facebook and has since seen celebrities such as Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and others dump a bucket of ice water over their heads.

The outpouring of support for ALS has been unprecedented, and it is welcomed by those with an attachment to the cause.

Boyle has known Frates since the two met at Boston College when Boyle was playing hockey and rooming with three BC baseball players, and Frates was rooming with the manager of the Eagles hockey team while playing baseball there from 2002-07. Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and has since lost all control of his motor skills, including speech. He now is only able to communicate through eye-tracking software.

“He was faced with this challenge (ALS) and he just geared up and faced it head on,’’ Boyle said of Frates. “After hearing hard news, I know he just wanted to gain awareness and raise money and ultimately find a cure. I think it’s pretty awesome seeing a guy like that, with the hand he was dealt, achieve so much. You feel good about it, and it can restore your faith.

“He’s using whatever he was given, and he’s trying to do his best with it, and it’s a message for a lot of people in a lot of different ways, and it’s a positive one.’’

Last week, Boyle and Frates reunited in Massachusetts to attend the funeral of mutual friend Corey Griffin, a former Boston College teammate of Boyle, who helped raise $100,000 for ALS — a donation that was recently matched on his behalf — after hearing about the Ice Bucket Challenge and Frates’ involvement. Griffin died in Nantucket, Massachusetts on Aug. 16 following a diving accident.

“They are just two of the best guys I have ever met,’’ Boyle said. “I’m not over-glorifying them, I’m not trying to speak higher of them than they deserve. They have earned their reputation, and they have an unbelievable track record of doing good for others and being good people, they have earned every bit of that.

“I was lucky to have Corey as a friend, and I’m lucky to have Pete as a friend. ... They both have been an inspiration and role models to a lot of people.’’

Bowness is thankful to see all the support and funds raised after a handful of members of his family have been afflicted with ALS, including his great-grandmother, grandmother, aunt and uncle, all on his mother’s side.

“My family has lived with this disease for our whole lives, and no one ever talks about it, nobody really knows what it is,’’ said Bowness, who along with his wife Judy has been a longtime supporter and donor to ALSA. “Every radio station, TV station ... everyone is talking about it now, and ALS is finally at the forefront. We have supported the fight against it, but this has raised not only the awareness, but more importantly, millions and millions of dollars for research that they have not been able to do before.

“This will hopefully speed up the process of finding a cure, because this is a terrible way to die, you don’t lose your senses, your brain stays sharp and you just watch yourself deteriorate to the point that you choke yourself to death.’’

For those who see the effects of ALS up close, a cure can’t come fast enough.

“It’s remarkable, it really is. I never imagined that this would happen when I did it and I was challenged, it never even came into my head that this would turn into what it has,’’ Boyle said. “For Pete, it’s unbelievable, and for ALS, it has raised so much money, it’s a great thing.

“It was Pete’s goal since he was diagnosed, to try to get as much awareness and research to help end this thing as quick as possible.’’

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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