CHARLOTTE, NC: One thing those that suffer from ALS and collegiate and professional sports have in common is that their communities consist of a small circle of people. In both groups, it is a family affair that each person bring their own unique kindred spirit. When former N.C. State baseball star, Chris Combs, was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2016, he joined the ALS family.
One morning as he struggled to fasten the top button of his shirt, the strapping 6-foot-7 inch former Wolfpack star realized the something was “just not right.”
Chris Combs’ journey with ALS begins
Like so many athletes, Combs’ first thought was that his problem was related to an old injury.
“I had elbow problems in baseball, so I thought maybe it was to do with that,” said Combs.
Following multiple tests by several doctors, the results came at Johns Hopkins University where he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The disease is terminal with no cure and is usually fatal within 2 to 5 years.
Every athlete, regardless of the sport, knows the story of Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” for the New York Yankees, who set a long-standing major league record of playing in the most consecutive baseball games in history until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke the mark.
Combs, too, is a record holder ranking fifth all-time in career home runs for N.C. State Wolfpack.
Raising Funds for ALS
In just a few short years, Combs has entered a new Hall of Fame, where he has emerged as one of the top fundraisers in the battle against ALS.
Within just a few days following his diagnosis, Chris and his wife Gena formed Team Chris Combs, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for Project ALS. The monetary support is channeled to scientific research that has the best prospects of finding a cure for the debilitating menace that is ALS.
Fundraising rather than homerun trots is now the primary occupation for Combs and his family.
The Hope Gala
Thus ALS became the newest and most formidable challenge Chris Combs, the onetime baseball star who was the 5th round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997.
But where Combs’ baseball career ends is where his new life as a fundraiser, spokesman, and crusader against ALS begins.
The response to Combs’ efforts are overwhelming. When a friend suggested they hold a fundraiser, Chris and Gena enthusiastically began planning the “Hope Gala.”
The first 2016 event hit Raleigh like a 105-mph fastball, grossing a million dollars in just a few hours with a live and silent auction.
In 2017, the Hope Gala added another $1.2-million to the ALS research pot.
From Black Tie Gala to Sand Lot competitions
Donations do not come only from formal black-tie events, however. Throughout the course of a year, Combs has challenged the city of Raleigh and the N.C. State community to come through like a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth.
All manner of smaller events such as fund-raising walks, baseball tournaments, and memorabilia sales add to the project. There are even Chris Combs logos which now appear in shopping centers, restaurants, and other local businesses.
In one instance, the staff of N.C. State men’s basketball team grew beards in support of Team Combs.
Personally, Combs is a gentle giant. The soft-spoken one-time slugger is more interested in others than his own story. He shuns the spotlight except when it can benefit the cause he has so wholeheartedly embraced.
Among his contributions is speeding up the process of getting potential drugs to victims. Thus far only two products have shown any effectiveness in slowing the rate of ALS progression.
One is a tablet called Riluzole and the other, which has only been available for about eight months, is an infusion known as Radicava. In the case of Radicava however, the treatment requires a one-hour infusion for 14 consecutive days followed by 10 days of infusions each month for the rest of your life.
So while Radicava does have benefits, it also has some drawbacks.
Taking action to solve ALS
Chris Combs’ efforts are designed to be even more pro-active by finding solutions rather than simply slowing the progression of ALS.
As a former athlete, Combs’s is all too aware of the old Yogi Berra adage, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
In the end, it all boils down to the positive energy Chris and Gena have thrown into the effort to defeat ALS. In many ways it’s akin to a Number 16 seed trying to win the NCAA basketball championship, but if anyone can pull it off, do not count Chris Combs out as long as there’s one strike left to give.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who travels throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer, reporter, and broadcast anchor who now focuses on writing about international events, people, and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) with the goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up