NFL veteran, Steve Gleason, faced an unthinkable medical diagnosis in 2011: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS,
Five years before ALS, Gleason--a Spokane WA native--became a New Orleans Saints folk hero by blocking a punt that turned into a defensive touchdown in the team's first game at home in the Super Dome since the team was forced to relocate following the Hurricane Katrina damage and recovery.
The dramatic blocked punt instantly became a symbol for the city and its football fans about coming back stronger after horrible tragedy. The team erected a statue of Gleason diving to block that punt outside their stadium.
"If we can keep exploring, share our weaknesses with each other and compassionately collaborate to solve problems, our human potential is boundless. If we can work to understand and solve each other's problems and each other's pain compassionately, then truly, all things are possible," Gleason told the Congressional gathering with the use of a computer that translates his words via audio speaker.
His long-time Saints teammate, Drew Brees, praised Gleason for his relentless determination to live through ALS because its the same internal drive he always had as a player.
After the ALS diagnosis, Gleason began philanthropic efforts to raise money for an ALS cure. He was part of a film documentary titled "Gleason" about his football career, medical diagnosis and his young children in 2016. Gleason was born and raised in Spokane where he resides today. He played collegiately at Washington State but was undrafted by the NFL before signing as a rookie free-agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He played for the Saints from 2000-2006.
Gleason now becomes the only NFL player to ever win the Congressional Gold Medal.