I am in awe of those athletes whose grit and determination drive them to succeed. I marvel at how effortlessly they seem to put interceptions, injuries, fumbles, errors or fouls behind them as they focus on the next play and final victory.

Once again this past Sunday we saw this phenomenon exemplified by two stellar New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees with his brilliant leadership and spiraling accuracy and Steven Gleason with his courage and strength as he walked onto the field to serve as a ceremonial team captain. It was a moving experience. In his blog Gleason eloquently shares his insights:

"Yesterday, despite bad luck, poor play and dire circumstances, I saw a team that stayed together, leaned upon its support, and faced its fear head on with a calming sense of certainty. A winning formula.”

The former Saint, who is a folk hero because of his game-turning blocked punt in the Saint's 2006 home opener, recently announced his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He also shared how he will face his fears with his foundation, Team Gleason.

Another courageous athlete, Lou Gehrig, is most often associated with the disease. On July 4, 1939,  Gehrig stood before thousands of New York Yankee fans and confirmed he had been dealt a terrible blow, but how he still felt like the luckiest man on earth.

The disease doesn't fell only athletes; it strikes down its victims indiscriminately. No one knows that better than Melissa Chassaignac. Her mother died 15 years ago from the disease, two years after her diagnosis.
”It's a tough, tough disease,” she says. “There is no known cause or cure, and the diagnosis is almost always a death sentence. My mother was so vibrant and independent, so to see her go from not being able to drive, to not be able to walk, to not even being able to take care of herself was heartbreaking. Her body deteriorated while her mind remained strong. It was so painful.”

Melissa is serving as a committee member for the ALS Association's upcoming Walk to Defeat ALS. The event is this Saturday, Oct. 1 at Zephyr Field in Metairie. Check-in starts at 9 a.m. “We already have teams registered, but you can still come out and walk with us,” she says.  “There is no registration fee, it's a short 1.8-mile walk and very family-friendly with food, drinks and lots of entertainment.”

Melissa is a local sales manager for Cox Media. She moved to New Orleans 12 years ago and totally fell in love with the city. She proudly claims that New Orleans is completely in her blood. She is also the president of the local chapter of the DREAM Fund, a non-profitn organization that helps people in the advertising, public relations and media community face unexpected medical emergencies or life crises.

Melissa will never forget the pain of her mother's disease and ultimate death, but she continues to find positive outlets and winning formulas. “I wanted to be involved in the ALS Association because I wanted to do more. This disease hit so close and was such a great loss to everyone who knew my mother. I still miss her everyday. I think it is so important to raise awareness and I appreciate that Steve Gleason has brought so much attention to the disease, but I am heart broken for him and his family."

Are you moved by Steve Gleason's story?  Then go to his website and/or join Melissa at the Walk to Defeat ALS this Saturday. Do you have a loved one with ALS? Or another life threatening disease? How are you facing your fears?