Limmud 1 - ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

By Harrison Thorn, Rocky Mountain Region, and Sarah Swartz, Lake Ontario Region, IC 2017 Press Corps

The Frate Train to Success: The Story of the Ice Bucket Challenge

Everyone has heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the social media campaign which went viral in 2014. It raised awareness and funds for ALS, also know as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a disease which slowly deteriorates its victims’ motor neurons, until victims lose all physical ability. But few people know its origin story. Andrew Frates always looked up to his older brother Pete, and considered him his greatest role model. Participants of IC 2017 were able to hear Pete and Andrew’s story from Andrew himself at a Shabbat Limmud session. 

In 2012, Pete was diagnosed with ALS, and knowing nothing about the disease, Andrew looked online to find any information he could about his brother’s diagnosis. He found hope in the story of a victim whose ALS symptoms had miraculously reversed, and used this hope to propel a movement. He started Team Frate Train, and organized fundraising events like sports tournaments to raise funds for his brother’s treatment. Once the Ice Bucket Challenge reached his hometown of Boston, he re-branded it as a way to create funds and awareness for his brother’s disease. 

What started as a small initiative within his hometown and inner circle became a global phenomenon when high-profile celebrities like Julian Edelman, Justin Timberlake, and Sidney Crosby took part. The Ice Bucket Challenge eventually raised over $220 million, had ten billion views on Facebook, and “what is ALS?” was the third most searched term in 2014. “The conversation has changed from if there’s to cure to when there’s a cure”, said Andrew, who said that while his brother’s motor ability is deteriorating, he still lives a rich life; he has a wife and children, and attends sports games and concerts with his family. Not only that, but also Pete has surpassed the average lifespan for those with ALS, which is usually two to four years after diagnosis. Andrew reminded participants the importance of finding a role model or mentor, and to always “be passionate, be genuine, be hard-working, don’t be afraid to be great.”