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Tuesday, October 19, 2021
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Seven Years Later, Here’s Why the Ice Bucket Challenge Remains Cool

Can you believe it’s been seven years since social media newsfeeds were dominated by the Ice Bucket Challenge? In case your brain is frozen in time from all that ice, let me refresh your memory. In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge was the hottest (well, coolest) viral sensation intended to generate awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and specifically for The ALS Association. This nonprofit is dedicated to finding a cure for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and supporting those afflicted with the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

How It Worked

The challenge was this: Either pour a bucket of ice water over your head or make a meaningful donation to an ALS charity to advance research ─ preferably both. Participants were then asked to share video proof on social media and tag (to nominate) others to partake in the icy dare too. Maybe the shock of the ice was intended as punishment for those that chose to just do the social bucket dump rather than donate to the cause. I’m not sure. But millions bravely poured buckets and, thankfully, donations poured in as well.

The Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation.
The Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation. Photo courtesy of Team FrateTrain via Facebook

Did It Work?

The Ice Bucket Challenge was perhaps the coolest dare of its kind to date. But, as awareness campaigns tend to do overtime, the online push naturally burnt out. According to The ALS Association, however, the Ice Bucket Challenge has a lasting impact. Here are some things we learned: 

  • The Power of One (to Millions): Pete Frates and his family helped start this groundbreaking effort. The former Boston College baseball captain was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 27. Then, in 2014 as an active volunteer for The ALS Association (Massachusetts Chapter), this one warm-hearted person started the coolest challenge with simple, good intentions that impacted the cause (and your own social media page) beyond expectations.
  • Social Media Driven: Seven years ago, I was thrilled and impressed that The ALSThe Ice Bucket Challenge Association achieved monumental attention with this viral dare. Seriously, think about how big the Ice Bucket Challenge became. Professional athletes, politicians (including Presidents), celebrities and, of course, tons of your Facebook friends all participated. It was incredible to watch social media influence millions of people and, as a result, drive philanthropy.
  • Money Talks: An estimated 17 million people raised more than $200 million worldwide for the fight against ALS. According to The ALS Association website, the Ice Bucket Challenge generated $115 million for their national office in 2014 alone. This spurred a massive increase in the Association’s capacity to invest in promising research, the development of assistive technologies and increased access to care and services for people living with ALS. An independent research organization reported that donations from the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to increase its annual funding for research around the world by 187 percent!

Let’s Keep Awareness Cool

Presently, as stated by The ALS Association, people with ALS are at risk of even greater life-threatening complications if they contract the coronavirus. For the ALS community, that means extreme isolation to ensure that persons with ALS, and their family members, are not exposed to COVID-19. To keep ALS awareness and fundraising going during these uncertain times of the pandemic, the Association recently produced a PSA that illustrates when the pandemic weans, people living with ALS will still struggle to do the things most take for granted every day if we don’t come together around the cause. Check out the “When This is Over” PSA here.

Sadly, Pete Frates died in December 2019 at the age of 34. He left behind a loving and supportive family, including his wife Julie, daughter Lucy, parents John and Nancy, and siblings Andrew and Jennifer. Pete also left behind a lasting legacy that we can all learn from.

His selfless leadership helped The ALS Association become a top funder of ALS-related research and advances. Most recently, in September 2021, the Association announced it had created a new diagnostic guide, called thinkALS. This will help neurologists more quickly diagnose ALS. Earlier diagnoses allow patients to participate in clinical trials and access treatments and benefits sooner, as well as receive care services support.

Pete Frates and his family
The Frates family started an ALS awareness effort like never before.

I tip my bucket — oh, I mean my hat– to the Frates family, The ALS Association and, of course, the many participates who took the challenge and, more importantly, now keep the conversation surrounding ALS advancement going. Look, the Ice Bucket Challenge significantly broadened the audience to hear The ALS Association’s important call to action. Until there’s a cure, there has to be care. Seven years later, I still care. Do you? I hope so. Check out ways to get involved at als.org/get-involved.

Nancy DeVault is an award-winning writer/editor contributing to local and national publications. Her storytelling spans a wide range of topics, including charity, disability, food, health, lifestyle, parenting, relationships and travel. Married with two kiddos, Nancy describes herself as a lover of the outdoors, fitness, news, traveling and binge reading magazines while sipping coffee.

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