CHARLOTTE, NC, March 21, 2017 – Former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark announced Sunday night that he has officially been diagnosed with amyotriophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known to many people as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Clark, who went to Garinger High School in Charlotte, NC before graduating from Clemson University, is remembered for his game winning touchdown catch from a Joe Montana pass in the NFC Championship Game in 1982. The reception been immortalized in professional football and 49er’s lore simply as “The Catch.”
The reception has been immortalized in professional football and 49er’s lore simply as “The Catch.”
Clark is one of at least five NFL players in the last 10 years to be diagnosed with ALS. While he said in a statement that he is not certain whether football might be the cause, he added that he “suspected it did,” before issuing a plea to the NFLPA and the NFL to continue their efforts in making the game safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.
While Lou Gehrig came down with ALS early in his life, he is best known for establishing the MLB record of 2,130 consecutive games played until Cal Ripken surpassed him with 2,632 straight starts. During that span, Gehrig suffered numerous injuries but remained in the daily line-up. Among them could easily have been instances where he was hit in the head while batting.
On the other hand, former New York Yankee pitcher “Catfish” Hunter, also an ALS victim, was a pitcher where there would have been little chance that he was ever struck in the head.
Actor David Niven was another well-known figure to have died from complications due to ALS.
Though head injuries may or may not be the cause or a reason for ALS to develop, the question does arise as to whether there is a correlation between athletes and the affliction.
ALS research has accelerated in recent years, perhaps because of the notoriety it has gained, with its affects on athletes and other celebrities.
Clark, who is 60, wrote that he began noticing symptoms as far back as September 2015. That is when he lost strength in his left hand and felt weakness in his right hand, midsection, lower back, and right leg.
“I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances,” said Clark. “Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one good piece of news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”
Clark made his announcement on Steve Gleason’s 40th birthday. Gleason, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, has been publicly battling ALS since 2011.
Said Clark in a lengthy message, “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.”
Clark underwent tests at several medical facilities, including the Mayo Clinic before accepting the inevitable diagnosis. In my personal case, with nationally recognized doctors available in my hometown, I chose to “hold the Mayo” and begin treatment immediately.
Now, like Clark and others, I choose to see the fullness of the life that spreads out before me. However, I also played pro-baseball and wonder about the connection between ALS and athletes.
Fortunately, ALS does not affect the brain from the standpoint of memory, and if I am blessed enough to remember the life-altering experiences of my travels that should be strength enough to adjust and adapt.
Research continues. Life goes on. Greater awareness will make a difference. Hopefully, one day soon, a breakthrough will happen and ALS can become a distant memory that ended too many lives too early.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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