By William C. Singleton III
Buckets of ice cold water being dumped on suspecting victims represent showers of blessings to Kevin Turner of Vestavia Hills.
“It is a huge blessing,” he said of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze. “People still may not know what ALS is, but at least now they have heard of it. That was more than I could say when I was diagnosed. For a relatively small but horrifying disease like ours, it was going to take something totally out of left field to catch people’s attention. I am thankful for every single ice bucket.”
Thousands of people have taken to the Internet challenging others to raise money for ALS, moments before being doused with freezing water. Even one of Turner’s sons–he has three children who attend Vestavia Hills City schools–has joined in on the craze.
His son, Cole, is a fifth-grader who plays on the Over the Mountain Vestavia Raiders team and wears his dad’s old number. The sixth-grade Over the Mountain Vestavia Eagles team also participated in the challenge.
“We didn’t just do this Ice Bucket Challenge because everyone on Facebook was doing it,” said Jonathan Romeo, a coach for the Vestavia Eagles. “Kevin coached some of these kids back in 2010, and, unfortunately, he is not able to do that anymore. The biggest part of all of this is that we wanted to do something to raise awareness about ALS and to support someone in our community who’s suffering from this disease.”
Turner, a former University of Alabama and NFL fullback, was diagnosed with ALS in May 2010.
The debilitating disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, ultimately leading to paralysis and death. There is no known cure.
Though technically the disease is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, it is more widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the New York Yankee great who was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 36 and died two years later.
Researchers are still trying to determine what causes ALS.
Turner said he believes he developed the disease as a result of brain injuries sustained during his football career. Turner played for the Crimson Tide from 1988-1991 and then played eight years in the NFL for the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Turner has not only become an advocate for ALS research–he established the Kevin Turner Foundation for that purpose–but also a strong proponent for more safety in football. His foundation launched a new campaign during the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff classic in Atlanta called “Brain Not Bell.”
“Whenever someone says they got their ‘bell rung’ I cringe,” Turner said. “It’s your brain, not a bell. You are going to need it later. We do all we can to raise awareness about ALS and about brain injury, which we believe is the true origin of my diagnosis.”
Romeo said Turner’s condition has made youth football coaches more aware of safety.
“The bigger picture of the whole thing is the amount of awareness on safety in football,” he said. “Football is a brutal sport, but there are definitely things that we are doing as coaches as far as safety that was not being done six or seven years ago–limiting contact, for example. We also take the safety equipment much more seriously than when I played as a kid. I mean, when I was kid, they just threw a helmet at you and told you to get out on the field.”
Turner says he appreciates the love and support he has received from people in the Over the Mountain community.
“This community has shown me an abundance of love and care. I have received offers, through emails or text messages, to help me with everything from bringing me dinner to taking out my trash,” he said. “Many times that help came from people that I’ve never even personally met. Throughout my experience with ALS, I’ve been able to see the best in people and I realize that there are still many people who love and care for their fellow man.”
Turner continues to keep his spirits high, even though ALS is slowly devastating his body. A representative of his foundation had to take our questions and relay them to Turner because it was difficult for him to speak over the phone.
“I’m a very happy man, and I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends and family around me,” Turner said. “My children are growing older, and I’m thankful to witness every day that I can. It has been very hard for my kids as well as my parents. ALS is more difficult on the ones who love me than it is on me. Thankfully I have the strength of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to comfort me. I’m not giving in to ALS and plan to fight this disease all the way, hoping that I can play a part in the demise of ALS.”
For more information about Turner and his foundation, visit www.kevinturnerfoundation.org.