A common characteristic of viral sensations is their brevity. The internet grabs hold of a video, a tweet or a picture and makes it burn as hot as flame for a few hours or a few days, then forgets it as the next big thing comes along.
The things that last have to have something special behind them. People in these parts knew Pete Frates was special when he was growing up in Beverly. They knew it when he was playing baseball at St. John’s Prep and Boston College. And they knew he was special in 2012, when he faced down a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In 2014, he was introduced to the rest of the world as the Ice Bucket Challenge caught fire. The idea was a simple as it was silly: Participants would film themselves dumping ice-filled buckets of water on their head in the name of awareness, then publicly challenge their friends to do the same. The challenge grew from a North Shore thing to a Massachusetts thing before going international.
For a while in the summer of 2014, you couldn’t check your Facebook page without seeing another celebrity — Charlie Baker, George W. Bush, Taylor Swift — pouring ice water over their head. Some wags dismissed it as an empty stunt, especially when people forgot to mention the challenge was meant to raise awareness of ALS and money to find a cure.
Some stunt. As of today, the challenge has raised more than $200 million, money researchers say has fueled their search for a cure.
“It was fun, it was silly, it was viral, but it was so much more than that,” Calaneet Balas, president and CEO of the ALS Association said at a Boston event Monday marking the fifth year of the challenge. “This made ALS change forever ... We are going to see a cure.”
It’s a testament to Frates’ resolve that the challenge continues. And it wouldn’t have happened without a chain of willing accomplices — people willing to look a little goofy in front of their friends, and to contribute $5, $10, $100 to the cause. As it turns out, a little silliness can have a large impact.
Here’s hoping for another silly summer.