O.J. Brigance accomplished many feats during his career as a professional football player. He won both a Canadian Football League and National Football League championship, and is the only player to do it in the same city, Baltimore.
Now he’s fighting to accomplish something that’s never been done – beating ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that disables the body’s motor functions by affecting nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This disease causes patients to lose control of muscle movement, leaving many of them paralyzed and/or unable to speak.
Brigance announced his diagnosed in 2008. He shared his inspiring outlook on life during an interview that aired on NFL Network, as he talked about the survival rate of ALS victims.
“They say the average lifespan is two to five years,” Brigance said. “I could be dead by the age of 40. OK well what am I gonna do with this? You can lie down, say ‘woe is me’ and go in the corner and just let it in. But that’s never been my attitude.”
It’s that courage and willpower that has helped Brigance oppose ALS and inspire others with his life story.
On Aug. 14, the Towson University football team and coaching staff became the latest group of individuals to be inspired by the Baltimore Ravens senior advisor to player development. He shared a message of faith, focus and fortitude, while giving examples of how the meaning of each word applies to his life and how those words have helped him remain humble and encouraged.
“I was honored to have O.J. come and speak to the team,” said Rob Ambrose, head coach for Towson University football. “Having O.J. address them and allowing the team to participate with the Brigance Brigade Foundation has truly opened their eyes and minds. O.J.’s strength and inspiration will be a symbol of this team’s pride in the year ahead and the team has been challenged to face their upcoming obstacles with half of the strength of O.J. Brigance.”
Brigance entered the room in a wheelchair. Attached to the wheelchair was a screen used to help him communicate. As he spoke to Towson players and coaches, Brigance shared life thoughts that will be of use on and off the football field.
“It was amazing for me to be able to impart wisdom gained from my life experiences to encourage the men of Towson University football,” said Brigance. “They have an outstanding program and I expect to see greatness from them this season.”
The former linebacker and his wife Chanda formed the Brigance Brigade Foundation to raise funds to improve the quality of life of ALS patients and their families by providing access to equipment and support services. As a partner with the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, the Brigance Brigade also supports the critical funding of research for a cure.
The Towson football team first volunteered with the organization in May, 2012 at the Packard Center’s Fiesta 5K. Members of the football team supervised the Brigance Brigade Foundation’s Fun Zone for children and families which included inflatable activities and a face painter. The event raised over $300,000.
Brigance intends to carry on the fight against ALS and share his message with youths across Baltimore.
“Why can’t I be the first one to be healed of it? Just because it has never been seen, man seems to think that things are impossible,” said Brigance. “It’s not necessarily impossible. It just hasn’t been done yet.”
“I’m gonna fight it. I’m gonna win the battle. And we’re gonna have others win the battle as well. We’re gonna find a way to crush ALS.”
Zach Sparks is an aspiring journalist with interests in a multitude of different areas including news, human interest stories and sports. A student at Towson University, he currently holds an internship at a public relations and advertising firm in Owings Mills where he writes and distributes press releases for several local non-profit organizations among other duties. He hopes to graduate in the fall of 2012 and parlay his experiences and education as a student into a successful writing career.