Front Row: Annual Fiesta 5K Raises $300,000 For ALS Research
By Jason Butt
Chanda Brigance has told her husband, O.J., to slow down for quite some time. But it's been to no avail, as former Baltimore Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance visits his organization's team facility in Owings Mills each day, despite the mobility limitations he endures as a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The disease has placed Brigance in a motorized wheelchair and requires him to need assistance throughout the day. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2007 and has since dedicated much of his time to raising awareness and money for research. On May 5, O.J. and Chanda Brigance served as the honorary chairmen at the sixth-annual Robert Packard Center Fiesta 5K, which consisted of teams raising money before the race and then running or walking five kilometers (3.1 miles) to benefit ALS research.
Among the 2,600 participants were the Brigances, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, members of the Towson football team and a representative from Gov. Martin O'Malley's office. Ravens players Lardarius Webb, Torrey Smith and Arthur Jones; general manager Ozzie Newsome; Ravens vice president Dick Cass; and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron also participated.
"To have them backing us and having them walking and standing right beside us, you cannot ask for more," Chanda Brigance said. "They are our extended family. They are with us every step of the way, since day one."
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a neuromuscular disease, which weakens the brain's nerve cells and spinal cord. This causes muscle weakness, and ultimately leads to paralysis and death. The average age for ALS onset is 55, with a patient's life expectancy being 2-5 years from diagnosis. There is no cure for ALS.
During this year's race, $300,000 was raised for ALS research. During six years, more than $1 million has been raised for the Robert Packard Center, which consists of scientists across the nation that dedicate research solely to ALS. The center is located on the Johns Hopkins University campus.
Fallston resident Fred Carlson is an ALS patient, who received his diagnosis in October 2008. He's participated in the Fiesta 5K for the past three years, with his team's numbers increasing each time. During this time span, he's raised almost $30,000 for ALS research, with more than 90 people competing on his team this year.
"Of course it's a devastating disease," Carlson said. "To be told you have this disease, which there is no cure or treatment for, it's not very easy to accept. But I've had a great deal of support from my family, from my neighbors and events like the Fiesta 5K."
Carlson, who's lived in Fallston for the past 22 years, said he'd been a Baltimore Ravens fan since the team's inception. He's also been a fan of O.J. Brigance, following his career since his days with the Baltimore Stallions, a former franchise CFL franchise.
The Brigances and their Fiesta 5K team, the Brigance Brigade (which is also the name of their organization used to raise money for ALS research), donated a wheelchair to Carlson at the Fiesta 5K. Carlson's ALS has progressed to the point that he's in the transition period between using a walker and needing a wheelchair.
"It is quite an honor to accept this gift from O.J., who's quite an inspiration for myself and for thousands of people who at least know people who have ALS, and have ALS," Carlson said.
Chanda Brigance said the aim of the Brigance Brigade was to get as much equipment to as many of the ALS patients and their families as possible. Though Chanda has told O.J. he should take some time to rest, it's not going to happen. He'll still be at the Ravens' team facility each day, spending time with the team with which he won the 2000 Super Bowl.
"There's no way he's going to slow down from being around them, the organization and around 'The Castle,' " Chanda Brigance said. "That helps give him energy. It gives him a purpose. He feeds off of that."
For more information about ALS, visit brigancebrigade.org.
More Front Row:
• Bring Bedrolls To See 'Shootout For Soldiers'
• Sculptor Of Oriole Legends Is A Fan For Many Years
• Under Armour Lacrosse Game Unites Country's Prep Stars
• Baltimore Bohemians: Latest Soccer Venture
• Annual Fiesta 5K Raises $300,000 For ALS Research
• Kopels Form Dad-Son Alliance To Save Sport
Issue 173: May 2012