Sharing the burden of ALS

(CNN) — When McIntosh High School lacrosse player Caitlin Obrien would feel exhausted and defeated during one of her home games in Peachtree City, Georgia, a quick look over to coach Mickey Beard would change her perspective, and her determination.

“He makes you want to do better and push yourself harder and give it your all because if he could, he would be doing that. And he is doing it, because he comes out here in his condition.”

Beard uses a wheelchair, the result of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, which is also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a neurodegenerative disease in which the brain progressively loses the ability to control muscle movement. The life expectancy of someone with ALS is on average two to five years, with their condition worsening over that time to a possible full paralysis.

Beard can still hold his head up, breathe and give his girls the advice and sarcasm they expect. His mind is still as sharp and as witty as ever. But it has been difficult for players like Shelby Durden to see his physical decline.

“I was 10 years old when he started coaching me and it’s just hard to see someone you care for have to go through such a struggle every day of his life.”

But the girls on his team did not shy away from the heartbreak of what their coach was going through. They embraced it with him, making it part of their lives. They researched ALS and when they learned that there was no cure, they became committed to helping raise money for the ALS Association. Their school and community were soon barraged by bake sales, silent auctions, fundraisers and ALS awareness events. The girls formed their own “Walk to Defeat ALS” team, and to help Beard with his medical expenses, they started an annual 5K run called “Miles for Mickey.”

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