PULLMAN, Wash. - He lives thousands of miles and a world away from where he went to college, but Thursday afternoon in Pullman, Spokane native and Cougar great Steve Gleason said his roots "are still here in the Palouse."
Gleason made the remarks as he accepted the Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award, WSU's highest alumni honor.
Gleason graduated from WSU in 1999. He played baseball and football, but Thursday, focused on other memories and lessons he learned on the Pullman campus.
"I certainly have some great football and baseball memories," Gleason told the crowd, gathered in the club level of Martin Stadium. "But, I think what makes my experience at WSU so incredible is the memories that have nothing to do with athletics. Part of why I've been able to handle ALS is because of my experience here at WSU."
Gleason remembered his former football coach with teaching him a lesson he said will stick with him forever. "[He told the football team] I'm interested in what you can do for people that cannot help you in return. I think that is what being a Coug is all about... to be people for others."
Gleason's friend and former teammate Grady Emmerson paid tribute to his friend and the courage he has shown in the fight against ALS.
"We sit and get inspired and we dream about things," Emmerson said. "Steve just does it."
WSU President Kirk Schulz said Gleason embodies what it means to be a Coug.
"His passion to persevere, and succeed, despite life's challenges, has inspired thousands, not only in the United States, but around the world."
Through his work with Team Gleason, Steve has raised millions of dollars for research and technology. He has also helped facilitate life-changing trips for others dealing with similar illness and injuries. The Steve Gleason Act, signed into law by President Obama, makes critical technology available to ALS patients through Medicare and Medicaid.
Gleason lives in New Orleans with his wife Michel and their son Rivers. A statute outside the Superdome there depicts Gleason blocking a punt in the Saints first home game after Hurricane Katrina. Named "Rebirth" it signifies the moment that inspired a city to rebuild and recover from the devastating storm.
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