Through challenges with ALS, Gleason continues to inspire

SPOKANE, Wash. — Steve Gleason may live in New Orleans now, but Spokane will always be his home.

“His heart, his soul, his roots are from the Pacific Northwest,” said Blair Casey, Team Gleason’s Chief Impact Officer. “And you can tell that by the way he talks about his real home.”

“I’m always glad to be amongst the mountains and cool and clear rivers of the glorious Pacific Northwest,” said Gleason, the Spokane native who went on to become a star football player for the Washington State Cougars and New Orleans Saints. “Being here in Eastern Washington and the North Idaho region, this land fills the cup of my soul.”

For years, Gleason has talked through an eye tracking device on a computer. It’s technology that provides a voice to him and thousands of others with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. It’s exactly the kind of technology Team Gleason works to make more accessible.

“We know from a clinical perspective, from a patient perspective, from a caretaker perspective what’s needed, how it needs to be done and how we get it out there,” explained Casey.

Team Gleason has spent over $18 million over the last decade, helping enrich the lives of more than 20,000 people. And Gleason says the moments they share are what makes him the most proud.

“They tell us how the ability to communicate has changed their life or their trip allowed them to see their grandchild for the first time. We hear about the technology we gifted gave them back a level of independence.”

Gleason has become the face of ALS. Last year, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He’s an inspiration to millions, which is a responsibility he fully embraces.

“I often have to step back and try to understand that the adversity I face is a brilliant opportunity for me to fulfill my purpose,” said Gleason. “If it inspires others to do the same, that may be part of all our purpose.”

“I mean, as a dad, as a husband, as a friend, as a mentor, as a leader, he kind of just checks off all those boxes,” said Casey. “It’s somebody in your corner that everybody should have, because it’s somebody you’ll look up to.”

No one knows this better than Gleason’s friends and family in Spokane, who hit the links at the Kalispel Golf and Country Club on Monday for the Gleason Classic Golf Tournament, raising close to $300,000 for Team Gleason, a significant amount after a challenging year for non-profits.

“We are grateful to all the generous people involved in his event and all the people who have helped make the Gleason Classic successful,” said Gleason.

It’s been more than ten years since Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. The average life expectancy is two to five years from diagnosis. But through his daily challenges, Gleason has never lost his zest for life or his sense of humor.

“I’d like to say I’m a naturally funny dude,” joked Gleason. “But in reality, I think I just have no choice. Humor is definitely healing, so I work to use it as a healing tool.”

Gleason says he cherishes all of life’s little moments, but especially the ones he shares with his wife, Michel, his son, Rivers and his daughter, Gray.

“I feel a sense of enormous and overwhelming gratitude. This life is so difficult for us as a family. But we have so many moments each day, moments of flourishing. And these moments don’t escape me and I often shed tears of joy. To be here as a pretty involved father ten years later, such beauty, such gratitude.”

And that perspective on life, in the face of all he’s been through over the last decade, is what makes Gleason so special and Spokane so proud that he’s one of our own.