It took 13 words for Yankees legend Lou Gehrig to capture the hearts of sports fans everywhere.
“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
In a heartfelt speech at Yankee Stadium in 1936, Gehrig bid farewell to the game he loved most, and two years later, passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. More than 80 years later, ALS is synonymously known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” with 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States.
As a member of the Cal football program from 2008-12, Eric Stevens was more than just a fullback, his listed position. He was a team captain, and one of the instrumental blockers in opening up running lanes for former Cal tailbacks Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and C.J. Anderson, among several others.
In addition to his duties as a lead blocker, Stevens produced 135 all-purpose yards and a receiving touchdown, and was praised by then-head coach Jeff Tedford’s staff as one of the most consistent players on the team. Beyond just his numbers, his resilience as a walk-on and team captain during his time at Cal has made him a fan favorite, even after the end of his collegiate career.
After a brief stint in the NFL, Stevens transitioned into his new life as a Los Angeles city firefighter, where his coworkers at Fire Station No. 21 describe him as the strongest person in the room.
Now, his resilience is being tested to an extent beyond any challenge on a football field or on duty in the streets of Southern California.
Last month, just weeks after he married his wife Amanda, a Cal women’s soccer alumna, Stevens was diagnosed with ALS at just 29 years old, after experiencing symptoms earlier this fall. The disease, which remains treatable but incurable, has thrown a wrench in the Stevens family’s plans to buy a house and start a family.
As Stevens begins the biggest fight of his life, his support system has grown from his inner circle to the Cal community and beyond. The hashtag #AxeALS has been spearheaded by Team Stevens Nation, a website dedicated to the family’s story and the difficulties of dealing with an ALS diagnosis, particularly before turning 30.
Recently, the Stevens’ story was shared on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” where the couple received a $50,000 donation from Green Dot Bank to help pay for medical expenses. While Stevens is unable to work at the fire station for the foreseeable future, any help the family can get will go directly toward supporting Eric’s treatment in the coming months.
“You have been hit by one of the biggest blows that life can throw at you,” said one of Eric’s coworkers while on DeGeneres’s show. “And the way that you have chosen to respond — with your strength, your courage, your fight — is proving to us once again, that you are remaining the strongest guy in the room.”
Current efforts to bring awareness to the family’s ongoing battle include a fundraising event, a GoFundMe page, merchandise and more — all of which can be found at the Team Stevens Nation website. The group has also set up Facebook and Instagram pages, where updates and donation information can be found.
Fans may remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge social media campaign to promote awareness surrounding the disease back in 2014. Whether you’re wearing blue and gold, or cardinal and white this weekend, the opportunity to rally around Stevens and his ongoing fight is something all are welcome — and encouraged — to do.