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Former baseball player who helped inspire Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 34

The stunt to help research into motor neurone disease exploded on social media after Pete Frates got involved.

Pete Frates with his wife Julie (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)
Pete Frates with his wife Julie (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)

By Mark Pratt, Associated Press

Pete Frates, a former college baseball player whose battle with motor neurone disease helped inspire the Ice Bucket Challenge that has raised more than £160 million worldwide, has died at the age of 34.

He died peacefully, surrounded by his family, they said in a statement.

“A natural born leader and the ultimate teammate, Pete was a role model for all, especially young athletes, who looked up to him for his bravery and unwavering positive spirit in the face of adversity,” the family said.

“He was a noble fighter who inspired us all to use our talents and strengths in the service of others.”

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Model Heidi Klum and fashion consultant Tim Gunn take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in 2014 when pro golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his wife’s cousin Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has MND, which is also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the New York Yankees baseball star.

MND patient Pat Quinn, of Yonkers, New York, picked up on it and started its spread, but when Frates and his family got involved, the phenomenon exploded on social media.

The process was simple: take a bucket of ice water, dump it over your head, post a video on social media and challenge others to do the same or make a donation to charity. Most people did both.

Thousands of people participated, including celebrities, sports stars and politicians — even Donald Trump before his election and cartoon character Homer Simpson. Online videos were viewed millions of times.

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with Pete Frates and his wife Julie (Elise Amendola/AP)

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge represents all that’s great about this country — it’s about fun, friends, family, and it makes a difference to all of us living with ALS,” Frates said at the time.

The Washington-based ALS Association said: “Pete Frates changed the trajectory of ALS forever and showed the world how to live with a fatal disease.

“He inspired everyone he met and his efforts to lead the Ice Bucket Challenge had a significant impact on the search for treatments and a cure for ALS.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis due to the death of motor neurones in the spinal cord and brain. There is no known cure.

Frates, from Boston, was playing for the Lexington Blue Sox in 2011 when he got hit on the wrist by a pitch and noticed that it was not healing properly. After months of testing, he was diagnosed with MND in 2012.

“The man upstairs has a plan for me,” he told the Salem News in 2012. “I’m not having too many issues with this, mentally. This is the hand I’ve been dealt and I’ve made my peace with it. There are people out there that don’t have my support system or my advantages, and I want to help them.”

As the disease progressed, he became paralysed and had to use a wheelchair, lost the ability to talk and had to be fed through a tube.

With the help of funds raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge, significant investments in research on the causes of and potential treatments for MND have been made. Dozens of research institutions and hundreds of scientists around the world have benefited from the money raised.

Frates’ father John said targeted research had led to advances in treating other diseases.

“When I was a young kid, we were worried about polio. When Magic Johnson got Aids, it was a death sentence. If we get money flowing into ALS, things will get better,” he told the Salem News. “Hopefully, Pete can be that spokesman that sparks that.”

PA

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