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Washington State legend Steve Gleason earns 2022 Inspiration Award for ALS activism at NCAA Honors Celebration

Steve Gleason delivers remarks after being presented with a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony honoring him on Jan. 15, 2020, in Washington D.C.  (Manuel Balce Ceneta)
By Chuck Stewart The Spokesman-Review

Steve Gleason communicates using eye-controlled technology.

And when the Washington State University baseball and football Hall of Famer and New Orleans Saints legend from Spokane speaks, he has people’s attention.

It was in 2011 that Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs its victims of the use of their muscles. It has confined him to a wheelchair and rendered him unable to talk without the assistance of a computer.

But all the Gonzaga Prep graduate has done in the decade since receiving that “death sentence” has been to raise the spirits of millions of people worldwide who suffer from ALS with his strength and optimism and watch Team Gleason, the nonprofit he founded with wife Michel, provide more than $15 million worth of assistive technology to people with the disease.

It’s his activism in the ALS community, which has changed countless lives, that prompted the NCAA to present him with its 2022 Inspiration Award last week.

The honor is given annually to those formally in college athletics who are role models, inspiring people through their life and work.

WSU athletic director Pat Chun accepted the award on Gleason’s behalf at the NCAA Honors Celebration Wednesday in Indianapolis.

“I believe we are resilient beings, and we can make the choice to embrace and accept life’s experiences, no matter what,” SBNation reported that Gleason told the NCAA.

“If we can do this, there is a strength within us that we didn’t previously recognize, a resilience to move through discontent and suffering. This resilience brings space and peace – a true freedom.

“Rather than allowing the struggle to consume me, I chose to accept the reality of my situation and then got innovative with any tools I could access to see and share the beauty in my life and transform myself to ultimately grow stronger.”

Team Gleason has partnered with companies to advance the technological opportunities that led to the creation of a system that allows people who are disabled to navigate power wheelchairs with their eyes. Today’s technology, Gleason said, is “downright miraculous.”

“Technology allows me to control nearly everything in my environment – computers, TVs, lights, thermostats, blinds and doors – using just my eyes,” Gleason is quoted as saying. “Ultimately, our goal is to turn people’s disabilities into super abilities. Until there is a medical cure for ALS, technology and innovation can be that cure.”