Former Stanford football player follows in the footsteps of Lou Gehrig, and shares his own battle with the devastating illness named after the great baseball legend
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries on 5/6/2013
NASHVILLE, TN (ANS) -- On March 27, 2012, former Stanford football player, Ted Bleymaier, and his wife, Ann, sat across the examination table from Dr. Kamisky as he confirmed to them the devastating diagnosis of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that Ted was suffering from.
Ann and Ted on a beach in Florida last October
“It is hard to put into words exactly what I felt at that moment,” he told the Lipscomb University graduates and their families at the 2013 Senior Awards luncheon ceremony at the Shamblin Theater, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Lipscomb University is a faith-based, liberal arts institution in Nashville, dedicated to challenging students academically, spiritually and as global community citizens).
“Other than a few mechanical injuries I had sustained playing sports all my life, I had never really been sick.
“I was 62 years old, in great shape with a beautiful wife, two daughters, a son in law and the greatest dog in the world named Berwyn. My wife and I were traveling the country helping non-profits put on fund raising golf tournaments and we loved it. This also afforded me a great opportunity to play golf as I have most of my life. In fact, with a career in the Air Force and then as VP of International for Word Entertainment, I have been blessed to have played golf in over 40 countries around the world.”
Bleymaier, who met his wife in the UK while serving in the Air Force – she is from North Wales – continued, “Lou Gehrig’s disease effects the motor neurons…they die and your muscles atrophy. It affects the voluntary muscles, but not the involuntary. Your heart is not affected and for the most part you are fully cognizant of the fact that your body is falling apart…and there is nothing you can do about it.
“You will lose most of your motor skills including the ability to breathe and swallow. To this day, they have not figured out what causes ALS and there are no known remedies or medications to cure the disease. In the US, only 2 out of 100,000 come down with ALS. 50% of the patients die in the first 18 months and 90% die in 3 to 5 years. As a result there are only about 30,000 people in the US who have this disease at any one time.
“In fact, if it was not for Lou Gehrig, this disease would be almost invisible. If I may, let me take you back to 1939. Baseball was the biggest sport…by far…in the country and since Babe Ruth had retired in 1935, Lou was the sport’s biggest hero. There is no equivalent to Lou’s stature in our country today. He had not missed a single game in 17 years for the NY Yankees…truly the original iron man.
“As the season began, Lou was only batting 158 with just 1 RBI. He then gets diagnose with a disease which no one had ever heard of and then two weeks later the Yankees and all of baseball honored Lou before the start of a home game. Lou never played another game and died within two years. This was later immortalized in the movie, The Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper. I can almost assure all of the graduates here that each of your parents have seen this movie…probably more than once. In one of the most recognizable sport quotes of all time, Lou called himself ‘the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’
“WOW…now that is having an attitude of gratitude!”
Ted Bleymaier reads the Lou Gehrig speech at Nashville Sounds baseball game in Nashville, TN
(Recently, Ted received a standing ovation when he read the Lou Gehrig speech at a Nashville Sounds baseball game in Nashville, TN).
He went on to say, “You know it is easier to give thanks when things are going well. I applaud each of you graduating seniors for a job well done and I know you only look forward to the next step in life…an opportunity to be productive in our society, maybe a chance to marry and raise a family and make a difference in the world around you. And most of all…no more finals…at least for a while.
“I had a favorite saying every time I came out of a test during my time at Stanford working on both my undergraduate and graduate degrees…I did my best and in 10 years, it won’t matter what I scored on that test! And you know, it never did.”
Ted in front of his first hole in one! “I had my second just 60 days later,” he says
Bleymaier then quoted Psalm 90:12, which says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get us a heart of wisdom.” He then added, “I have prayed all of my life for wisdom, but until recently have never truly ‘numbered my days’. Isn’t it interesting how we go through the scriptures praying for things…all good things…but often miss the admonition that accompanies what we are asking.
“Some of you may recognize the name of Steve Gleason who played defensive back for the New Orleans Saints for 7 years. Three years ago, Steve came down with ALS. At the end of an interview before the 2012 Super Bowl, Steve was asked if he ever thinks about dying. He said he did because he now has a timeline…and then said something very interesting: ‘Most of us don’t live like we have a timeline.’
“Let me encourage each of us in this room today, both young and old, if you want to change your life…and we are never too old to change, live life like you have a timeline…it will give you a whole new perspective on your life!”
Ted (front right) as a graduate assistant at Stanford. Others on the staff: Head coach, Jack Christiansen, Other notable assistant coaches: George Siefert, Ray Handley
He then quoted Isaiah 41:10, which says, “Fear not; there is nothing to fear for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties; yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with my victorious right hand of rightness and justice.”
Bleymaier said, “I am humbled to have two degrees from Stanford, played on two winning Rose Bowl teams (for you Big Ten fans that was Ohio St in ‘71 and Michigan in ‘72), but the single biggest thing that happened during my Stanford career and the most important event in my life occurred in the Fall of my Freshman year when I made a personal decision to accept Jesus Christ into my life.
“I had the benefit of growing up in a strong Christian family and thought that was all I needed to do to be a part of the club. Moving away from home, getting hurt the first day of football practice, flunking a math placement exam and struggling to fit in caused me to turn to Christ in a personal way that changed my life forever.”
He said that his life verse since his Freshman year has been Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not rely on your own resources, but in all of your ways, acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”
Bleymaier then stated, “I wish I could say that I have always followed that advice, but as many of my friends know and I know…I have fallen short many times over the years. But his grace is sufficient and his mercies everlasting. Let me ask you a personal question, Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? It is never too late…it is always the right time. There is nothing else that will prepare you more to face the opportunities and the challenges that life has to offer than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“In my new circumstances, the truth of Proverbs 3:5-6 has really hit home. My doctors and the medical world are still searching for answers to ALS…they have none…which in today’s world of such tremendous advances in medical science is amazing.
“So back to God’s word (not a bad idea) and I am now claiming my second life verse: Hebrews 13:5-6: ‘God has said, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.’
Ted and his dog Berwyn
“Friends, do not wait for life to come up and blindside you with an economic hardship, a broken relationship, a medical problem or any other devastating thing that will occur as you go through this life. Both good and bad things will happen in your life…they do for everyone in this world. When tough times come…and they will, the Lord is the only foundation that will not give way.”
Bleymaier then told the audience that he liked what a lady named Vivian Greene once said: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to Dance in the rain!” and then he added, “You know we always have a choice in life…and I am choosing to learn how to Dance in the rain!
“Let me close with a short illustration. Back in the 70’s…not so long ago for about half the audience here today, there was a sociological study done with 50 people over the age of 95. They simply asked them if they had their life to live over again, what would you do differently? Now remember, these folks were born in the 19th century, had lived through two world wars and the great depression.”
He said that there were certainly a variety of answers, as you can imagine, but three answers were most dominant:
1. If I had it to do over again, I would have risked more.
2. If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more.
3. If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.
“What are you going to do to make a difference?” he asked the students. “Are you going to be defined by those around you, or are you going to build upon the Christian World View that this university has endeavored to instill in you through every subject and facet of your college years.
“My wife, Ann, and I have spoken a paraphrase of Aaron’s blessing upon the Israelites from Numbers 6: 24-26 over our two daughters from the time they were in my wife’s womb to this day as young women. If I may I would like to close by leading all the parents here today in a blessing on each and every graduating senior.”
He concluded by asking the graduating seniors, if they would mind standing? And then said, “Graduates of Lipscomb University, Class of 2013: The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you and the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you his peace and his healing in Jesus name. Amen!”
Orginal Story posted here, from ASSIST News Service.