Pete Frates, a former college baseball player whose battle with motor neuron disease helped inspire the ice bucket challenge, has died at the age of 34. His family confirmed he had died on Monday. “Today heaven received our angel,” read a family statement.
The ice bucket challenge began in 2014 when professional golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his wife’s cousin Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has motor neuron disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankees great who suffered from it. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis due to the death of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain. There is no known cure.
A New York ALS patient, Pat Quinn, picked up on the challenge and started its spread, but when Frates and his family got involved, the phenomenon exploded on social media. The process was simple: participants took a bucket of ice water, dumped it over their head, and posted a video on social media challenging others to do the same or make a donation to charity. Most people did both.
Thousands of people participated, including celebrities, sports stars and politicians such as David Beckham, Bill Gates, Anna Wintour and Donald Trump. Even Homer Simpson took part. Online videos were viewed millions of times.
“The ALS ice bucket challenge represents all that’s great about this country it’s about fun, friends, family, and it makes a difference to all of us living with ALS,” Frates said at the time.
The challenge has raised about $220m worldwide, including $115m alone for the Washington DC-based ALS Association.
Frates grew up in the Boston suburbs and went on to play baseball at Boston College. He played professionally in Germany after graduation and in amateur leagues upon his return to the US. He was playing for the Lexington Blue Sox in 2011 when he got hit on the wrist by a pitch and noticed the injury wasn’t healing properly. After months of testing, Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012.The man upstairs has a plan for me,” he told The Salem News in 2012. “I’m not having too many issues with this, mentally. This is the hand I’ve been dealt and I’ve made my peace with it. There are people out there that don’t have my support system or my advantages, and I want to help them.” As the disease progressed, he became paralyzed and had to use a wheelchair, lost the ability to talk and had to be fed through a tube.
With the help of funds raised by the ice bucket challenge, significant investments in research on the causes of and potential treatments for ALS have been made. Dozens of research institutions around the world have benefited from the money raised.
The ice bucket challenge has also been used to raise awareness for other charitable causes.
Frates’s father, John, said targeted research led to advances in treating other diseases.
“When I was a young kid, we were worried about polio. When Magic Johnson got Aids, it was a death sentence. If we get money flowing into ALS, things will get better,” he told the Salem News. “Hopefully, Pete can be that spokesman that sparks that.”
Frates is survived by his wife, Julie; daughter Lucy; parents John and Nancy; and siblings Andrew and Jennifer.