Posts Tagged ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’

You Think You Know What It Means to be a Sports Hero? Not Until You Meet Pete Frates, You Don’t

September 5, 2018

Boston College’s Varsity Club has honored Pete Frates with the presentation of the Varsity Club Medal. This is only the second time that the medal has been bestowed upon an individual, who has “served Boston College with excellence, fostered its athletic traditions, and promoted sportsmanship while in service to the Varsity Club and Boston College Athletics.”

Pete, as many know, is the face of the Ice Bucket Challenge. He didn’t invent it, but he was the one responsible for turning it into a social-media phenomenon that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research.

I do believe that when the cure for ALS is finally run to earth, the path for that cure will lead back to Pete Frates.

The following story of this singularly heroic man and his wonderful family, which was done for the Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony on September 7, 2018, appears below.

Pete Frates ’07   

Varsity Club Medal

The most prescient scouting report on the athletic potential of young Peter Frates didn’t come from a coach. It was from a dancer.

Well, actually it was gym teacher Susan Stowe, but her subject matter was dance. She’d been observing Pete ever since kindergarten. One day, when Pete was in the fourth grade, she remarked to his mother Diane,

Julie, Lucy, and Pete Frates

“I don’t say this very often, but you’ve got a Division One athlete on your hands. In the dance curriculum, he has shown such agility, and such an ability to learn – all the things necessary to be an athlete.”

There was one other athletic must-have about Pete Frates: he was born with grit and determination.  When he was an infant, he fought off a severe staph infection that required a blood transfusion and that carried a more than 20 percent mortality rate.

Pete played football, hockey, and baseball from the age of six. He excelled in all of them, all the way through high school at Saint John’s Prep in Danvers.  In football he was a Catholic Conference All-Star. He also had an instinctive rapport with coaches and an innate ability to lead, so he was elected or appointed captain of most of his teams.

Very few Boston-area athletes have played hockey in Boston Garden, football at Gillette Stadium, and baseball in Fenway Park. But Pete Frates has – and at Fenway, he blasted a home run into the bullpen in a game against Harvard, his favorite foe.

“We always thought he’d be a hockey player,” said Diane. “He was a defenseman on the Saint John’s varsity as a sophomore. He was a safety in football, and they had some powerhouse teams. He played baseball all summer in Babe Ruth or Legion ball.  He’s always had a deep and abiding love for baseball. Both my husband John and I went to BC, Class of 80. It was his dream to play at BC, but that didn’t seem to be on the radar.”

One day, in the summer between junior and senior years of high school, Pete went to a baseball showcase run by BC coach Pete Hughes. After it was over, when Hughes learned that Frates was an honor student and that he’d done well on his SATs, he asked Pete to come and play baseball at Boston College.

Pete receives his baseball jersey from members of the BC baseball team. The team has retired his #3.

Pete played center field for the Eagles, for three years under Hughes and then his senior year as team captain under Mike Aoki. In 2007 he set a modern BC record in a game at Maryland. He went 4-for 6, with eight RBIs from a grand slam, a three-run homer and a double. His Fenway homer came in 2006, when he was 4-for-4 in the 10-2 Beanpot final win over Harvard.

After graduation, Pete played a year with Hamburg, Germany, in the European League before coming home and entering the workaday world. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with selling group life insurance for a living, but he still played ball, catching on with the Lexington Blue Sox in the Inter-City League. But life changed on that fateful day when he and his family answered a doctor’s call to come in and discuss a diagnosis.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS, the dreaded and incurable disease that took the life of another baseball great, Lou Gehrig, had come to Pete Frates. He went for a second opinion to Dr. Merit Cudkowicz at Mass General. After she confirmed the bad news, and Pete was exiting her office, he turned around and asked,

“Doctor. How much money would you need to find a cure for ALS?”

Taken aback at such an unusual question, she answered, “I’d need a billion dollars.”

To which Pete replied, “I’ll work on that for you.”

Some day, when medical textbooks describe the cure for ALS, they will point to that day, April 1, 2012, as the starting point, the call to battle.

Pete Frates and family on the day he received the BC Varsity Club Medal from club president Richard Schoenfeld, second from left.

Team Frates was born that day. Pete set to work – calling, texting, emailing – everyone he knew from his many endeavors, athletic and otherwise. He asked if they’d join in the fight. And the “Circles of Pete” began to form.

A little more than a year later, Pete and Julie Kowalik, a 2012 BC graduate, were married at her family’s Marblehead home. Their daughter Lucy was born in 2014.

Two and half years after that second opinion, and an online conversation between Pete and Pat Quinn, another ALS patient, the Ice Bucket Challenge emerged as a worldwide, social-media-driven phenomenon.

Dumping cold water on someone’s head as a way of raising money for charity was Quinn’s idea. To Frates, it was like that pitch he hit out of Fenway Park. To his parents, he said,

“This is the vehicle I’ve been waiting for.”

Team Frates swung into action with the Ice Bucket challenge. The Boston College community was particularly responsive, with athletes like Matt Ryan, Brian Boyle, and Sean Marshall taking prominent roles. You’ve seen the film clips of those who’ve accepted the challenge – the famous athletes, show business titans, captains of industry, and two presidents of the United States. More than 2.4 million tagged videos about the challenge have appeared on Facebook.

In its first year, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $200 million. The work continues, the ice water continues to flow, and most importantly, there’s hope for a cure. The FDA has approved two new experimental drugs, with more in the pipeline.

Thanks to $1 million in challenge money, researchers discovered the NEK1 gene in Project MinE, a global gene-sequencing effort, involving 11 countries and 80 researchers.

None of that progress, none of those positive steps toward finding the cure for ALS, would have happened without Pete Frates and those who admire him, love him, and would do anything he asks of them.

“He’s had more friends that anybody ever could have,” says Diane. “A life well-lived.”