ALS hits home for the Lehigh community: Football standout Brett Snyder, ’00, was diagnosed with the disease in 2003. At the time, he was only given 18 months to live but is still fighting to this day.
Over the summer, the ALS Association raised $115 million in donations due to the viral Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge encouraged participants to film themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over themselves, then nominating others to do the same. It became nearly impossible to scroll through a Facebook feed without seeing a video of a friend being doused with ice water.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a disease with no known cure. It causes a progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in a person’s body, leading to the brain’s inability to initiate and control muscle movement, according to The ALS Association.
The popularity of this challenge brought ALS to everyone’s attention. So when Lehigh’s Student Athlete Council was looking for a cause to support, it seemed only natural for ALS to come to the forefront.
Softball player MacKenzie Velasquez, ’16, first proposed the idea of raising money for a cause last spring. She noticed how members of the football team participated in a program called Impact Players and shaved their heads for Jack Knudson, a young boy from the program that they adopted to the team.
Hoping to do more for a charity, Velasquez went to Community Relations Coordinator Roseann Corsi to brainstorm ideas. Later that summer, it was lacrosse player Nikki Isdaner, ’16, who suggested the Student Athlete Council raise funds for ALS. Corsi immediately knew that was the perfect cause for Lehigh to help, especially with on of Lehigh’s own fighting the disease.
“He’s a part of our family; we need to help our family,” Corsi said.
Members of the Student Athlete Council proposed many ideas of what to do to raise awareness and funds for ALS, as well as for the Snyder family. At first, the council was going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, but it was canceled due to bad weather. Instead, the council decided to make brown wristbands reading “Lehigh Fights ALS” and sold them for $2 at the football game against Monmouth University on Sept. 27. All the money from the bracelets was donated to the Snyder Family Medical Assistance.
“It’s almost everywhere,” Corsi said. “I hear people say they have an aunt or an uncle that have it. That’s why people will see the bands and want to buy. They want to support something that hits close to home.”
Kody Fedorcha, ’00, a former teammate of Snyder’s, can’t believe Lehigh’s continued generosity toward the cause.
“The student body gives and gives, even without knowing him, and it’s really impressive,” Fedorcha said. “It speaks a lot about Lehigh and the type of people that are there. They are very academic and come from good families. Lehigh attracts good-hearted people.”
These recent events are only another chapter in the Lehigh community’s continued effort to help support Snyder.
When he was first diagnosed with ALS, Snyder and family started the Tackle ALS Foundation, whose funds went on to support the ALS Hope Foundation’s research for a cure. However, as Snyder’s condition worsened, the focus of his family’s fundraising changed to help them cope with the costs of his treatments.
Over the years, the Tackle ALS Foundation and the Lehigh University Football Partnership held tailgates at various football games. The thousands of dollars acquired from the ticket purchases each year went on to help pay for various medical expenses.
When Snyder needed to undergo a tracheotomy last year, Fedorcha said members of the two organizations sent out emails to football alumni and were astonished to see over $10,000 come through in only 10 days.
Fedorcha said there are always alumni from all the different sports teams at events. They were a family when they were in school in the late 90s and continue to act that way today.
This is a value Fedorcha and others in the Lehigh community still see in Lehigh’s current student-athletes.
“A lot of people loosely say, ‘we are family’ these days,” Corsi said. “Well, I’m saying it because we are one. We really are a family here at Lehigh.”
The Student Athlete Council has currently sold $1,000 worth of bracelets. Their goal is to sell every bracelet they have in stock, which will amount to $3,000 for the Snyder family. Bracelets are still available for purchase now and will be on sale in Rathbone and the University Center next Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at lunchtime.
Corsi said that $3,000 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but that every dollar helps when battling something like ALS. The Snyder family is grateful for all the support they receive from Lehigh.
“I’ve known Brett for 30 years,” Fedorcha said. “You couldn’t be raising money for a better person. He has two kids, a great wife and never says a bad thing about anyone. He cares so much about people, even before he was sick.”