published Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Cook: Good deeds done ice cheap (video)

During an otherwise pleasant evening, we stood up from the kitchen table, took our plates to the sink, walked outside and then -- as if this sort of thing was normal -- dumped five-gallon buckets of ice water all over our heads.

"Dad, this is cray-cray," my little girl said.

And cold-cold. Had aliens been watching, they may have assumed this was some after-dinner custom, sort of like belching was for the Vikings. Eat, then ice water over the head, followed by brief moments of screaming, then back inside.

"Can this count as my bath?" my boy said.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has become more popular than puppies. As somebody films, you get ice water dumped on you -- the way linebackers do head coaches -- and then you challenge someone else to do the same. The video's uploaded -- your challenge is now public -- and then everybody makes a donation.

Since July 29, the Challenge has raised nearly $23 million for the ALS Association's fight to cure what most of us call Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"You know, the Iron Horse," my neighbor said earlier that day.

Name's Nolan. He's 8. We were talking near the zipline.

"It shuts down the nerves. Moves up your arms, into your legs and chest, and you can't breathe," he said, then lowering his voice. "And anybody can get it, at anytime."

Neurons die, which leaves your muscles stranded, unable to receive brain-to-spinal-cord messages. They atrophy, like being starved out.

Before my ice bath, I couldn't name four facts about ALS. Now, I'm writing columns about it. And if I get stumped, Nolan's right across the street.

(When people talk about "raising awareness," this is what they mean.)

Oprah's done the Challenge. Lebron, too. And Bon Jovi, with Gov. Chris Christie doing the dumping. Martha Stewart did it, just before the lady at the salon cut her hair. (Sheesh. What a snob.) If you've seen them on the cover of People, they've probably done the Challenge.

Local teacher-contrarian Todd Wells challenged me, then I passed it to my brother-in-law Adam Webb (kids at St. Nicholas, don't you think Mr. Webb should do the Challenge in front of the whole school?), my old bud Kerrigan Smith and last and certainly least, Tennessee's Education Secretary Kevin Huffman. (He so deserves it.)

My wife and son dumped the bucket. My daughter shot the video. Oh, how we all laughed.

Oh.

How we all ... laughed?

Let me turn cold for a moment: doesn't the Ice Bucket Challenge belittle the agony and suffering of ALS?

Doesn't the Challenge lull us into thinking that a few moments of freezing counts as real charity? Isn't it just one more example -- from wine-and-black-tie affairs to 5K Color Runs -- that in order to donate, we must get something in return?

Isn't there a huge disconnect between ALS victims -- who can't feed themselves, or may suffocate when their lungs stop working -- and the eeek-it's-so-cold/look-at-me video frenzy sweeping the country?

I used to think yes. Absolutely, without question, yes.

Then I talked to Betsy Willingham LaPoint.

In 2010, her husband Calder died from ALS.

"He would have been the first person in line to do the Challenge," she said. "He would have loved it."

Two years after a personal best Ironman, Calder started having trouble catching his breath. Then, walking up hills. Doctors here thought it might be asthma. Doctors in Baltimore said otherwise: ALS.

Everything changed: he traded in his racing bike for a wheelchair. He couldn't use the computer. Needed a machine to help him breathe, which would scare his youngest granddaughter. ("It's still me, Poppa," he'd tell her.)

Before he died, Calder had four kids and 14 grandkids. He had a motley crew of friends who'd take him to breakfast, just to gather around him while they still could. He had his wife, who also became his caregiver.

"He always said: I'm glad it's me and not somebody in their 40s trying to raise a family," Betsy said.

Well, I'm in my 40s.

I'm trying to raise a family.

And to think some disease could take me from them, or them from me? Forget ice buckets. I'd swim through the polar caps to keep that from happening.

Sure, this Challenge is silly, but so what? If it pushes us closer to a cure, or inspires a kid who later turns scientist, or reheats the heart of a family gone numb from ALS-pain, then bring on the ice. Make mine a double.

"He was up for anything like that," Betsy said. "Anything to help somebody."

Anything, even ice buckets.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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