LUMBERTON — There’s no escaping the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge — that seemingly ubiquitous social media campaign during which people film themselves getting doused with ice-cold water to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease, and then throw down the gauntlet for others to do the same.
An estimated 1.2 million people have participated in the challenge since it started gaining momentum on Facebook, YouTube and other websites in June. A quick Google search yields a host of widely shared videos of famous athletes, actors, pop stars and politicians being drenched, including former President George W. Bush, who called out his “friend,” another former president, Bill Clinton.
Several Robeson County residents have hopped on the ice bucket bandwagon.
Red Springs High football coach Ron Cook accepted the challenge after being picked by his friend and former Virginia Tech teammate, Wayne Ward.
“He put it up on Facebook and called my name out,” Cook said.
Ward, who also coaches high school football in his hometown of Plant City, Fla., assembled his players to appear in the video he posted on Aug. 15.
Though people are normally given only 24 hours to respond to the challenge, Cook asked for an extension so his Red Devils could get in on the action as well.
“He did it with his players and I wanted to do it with mine,” said Cook, who posted his video on Aug. 18. “I didn’t have any shortage of hands to dump water on me.”
Cook extended the challenge to Lumberton coach Mike Setzer, South Robeson coach Clay Jernigan, and Fairmont coach Randy Ragland, who might have taken a cold Gatorade bath following a big win at some point in their career.
So how did the Ice Bucket Challenge explode into a full-blown phenomenon in such a short span of time? Cook feels that a large part of the campaign’s appeal lies in its accessibility. All a person needs to join in is a smartphone, three friends and about 5 gallons of ice-cold water.
“It’s something that anybody can do and post online,” he said. “It was smart using social media for the cause, as it gets to people a lot quicker and is much more effective.”
“Effective” might be a bit of an understatement. The ALS Association says it has received nearly $31 million in public donations over the last three weeks because of the challenge. The association received just $1.9 million during the same period last year.
People who accept the challenge are being asked to contribute $10, and those who skip the cold shower are expected to donate $100 to the organization.
The campaign hits close to home for Crystal Britt, a stylist at Shear Perceptions Hair Salon in Lumberton whose husband, Keith, lost his six-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease on Dec. 20, 2012.
“My nieces and nephews and I did our video in June before it got real big,” she said. “It does my heart good to see so many people going out to help the cause.”
Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects more than 30,000 people across the country. It gradually paralyzes the body by damaging motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
The exact cause of the disease is unknown.
“When my husband was diagnosed, there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness,” Britt said. “He was like a prisoner in his own body. Everything shut down. I saw every side of the disease, needless to say.”
While critics of the Ice Bucket Challenge may question the connection between getting soaked in cold water and raising awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease, Britt says the two aren’t entirely unrelated.
“For a moment, you have to go through that struggle of having ice water dumped on your head and it’s kind of like a symbol. You feel a little bit of the suffering they have to go through, though it’s nowhere near the same,” she said. “They suffer all the time.”