Career Woman

What is the ALS ice bucket challenge really about?


As we scroll down Facebook newsfeeds showing our friends, family and those in the public eye throwing buckets of ice over themselves, we watch with amusement. But what is the ice bucket challenge really about? Many of us could be forgetting the symbolism behind the stunt to raise awareness and funds for ALS. Many critics have said that pouring buckets of ice water over ourselves doesn’t help ALS sufferers. However the numbing sensation from the freezing blast of water allows us to empathize with those suffering from the disease, 75% of whom become paralyzed from the disease’s harsh effects.

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease (after the well-known New York Giants baseball player). ALS targets brain cells in both the brain and the spinal cord. The motor neurons within these areas die, which means those with ALS face a gradual decline with an inability to maneuver, communicate or breathe. Awareness is important because currently there is no cure available. This is why pouring a bucket over ourselves and donating money amounts to so much more than a quick chuckle on social media. The fight for a cure is increasing as each ice bucket is dumped.

The disease is diagnosed in approximately 5,000 people in the US every year. It is further estimated that at any given time, 30,000 Americans will have the disease. After being diagnosed, a sufferer will generally still have reasonable quality of life for up to five years. After then, the chances of death increase.

Among all of these statistics are hidden the stories of the women who have suffered ALS but still left us inspired as a culture. Women who have suffered, been affected by or have become advocates for the cause. These are the women who have fundamentally been affected by this disease and it’s tragic motions.

Polly Platt

An American film producer, screenwriter and production designer. She had influence over movies including Targets (1968), The Last Picture Show (1971)and The War of the Roses (1989). Her influence continued in various areas including The Simpsons, after she encouraged colleague James L. Brooks to meet with Matt Groening. Their meetings lead to the creation of the iconic animated series.

At age 72, Polly Platt passed away from ALS on July 21, 2011 in her Manhattan home. The disease took her away in a devastating manner, shocking a Hollywood that honors her memory. She was highly revered and accomplished willing to constantly share details about her career.

Brooke Shields

Known for her acting career, including breakout roles such as the lead in Blue Lagoon and her part in ‘Grease’ as Sally Bowles, Brooke Shields has been motivated in extraordinary ways by ALS. She has become a strong advocate for the cause, and personally completed the ice bucket challenge with Wanda Skyes hilariously pouring the icy water over her. However, her advocacy was shown most strongly in giving a speech in 2002 at Yankee Stadium. The speech she gave echoed LouGerhig’s farewell speech in 1939, just two years before he passed away. Her speech was sincere and left many feeling emotional as they remembered the loss.

“Unfortunately, I became more aware of Lou Gehrig because of ALS, so I kind of did it the other way,” she said, “Now, the more I talk to people, I become aware of the record and the man that he was, what he stood for, the integrity that he had… and the champion that he was.”

Jenifer Estess

Jenifer Estess is the woman behind much of the ALS awareness effort. The fight to find a cure and help the many suffering from the restricting disease is largely due to her passionate effort. With the help of her sisters, she co-founded the ALS Project in 1998. The organisation has managed to raise over $17 million dollars due to the support of the general public and also famous faces such as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston, Courtney Cox, Brooke Shields and more.

Also a New York theatre and film producer, Jenifer was diagnosed with ALS at 35. At the time of her diagnosis, she was urged to max out her credit cards and indulge in junk food. She ignored that recommendation and decided to work towards finding a cure with the help of her sisters. In 2003, Jenifer passed away, leaving her legacy and mission for her sisters to continue.

“My life and millions of others are in the hands of Congress. We are already seeing the incredible potential of stem cells to replace what is destroyed in ALS, but we need the federal government to mentor research along in the most responsible, humane way.” – Jenifer Estess.

These three women each have a story that revolves around ALS. There are many individuals suffering from the disease or being affected by it as a carer, friend of loved one of an ALS sufferer. As a society we are coming together to work towards a cure and a solution. And yes, even icy water can help, but there are other ways to lend support without getting wet.

We nominate YOU to visit Project ALS and find out more about this incurable disease.


About Lauren Robinson

A Journalist at The Business Woman, Lauren has a solid passion for the world of writing. Previously working with Fairfax Regional Media and Bauer Media Group Lauren loves beauty, entertainment, lifestyle and human-interest stories.

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