Field hockey athlete joins fight against ALS
As a defensive specialist for the Wittenberg field hockey team, Erin Berger is used to shutting down opponents. Off the field, Berger is applying that same tenacious “D” to a devastating condition that can lead to paralysis and death.
The sophomore psychology major with a pre-medicine concentration also is a standout in the classroom, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Berger became familiar with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis while studying neurological diseases as part of a physiology course.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord resulting in muscle weakness and atrophy. In the later stages of the illness, individuals may become totally paralyzed. ALS can strike anyone – an estimated 30,000 Americans struggle with the disease at any given time.
Berger’s reading and research on the debilitating condition inspired her to do more.
“People are unaware of just how prevalent it is, and they don’t realize we have made very little headway in the research for a cure,” she said. “People do fund-raising for Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis and things like that, but you don’t hear about this too much, so I decided to get involved.”
Berger turned to the ALS Society for ideas about how to help. She discovered the organization’s annual Walk to Defeat ALS and decided to join the more than 100,000 people who participate in the event each year.
The 2007 Dayton, Ohio, edition of the Walk to Defeat ALS was held in November of last year. Berger created a Web site to solicit contributions. She also raised awareness about ALS by inviting her fellow Wittenberg students and student-athletes to join her in the short walk for a good cause. Among them was a member of the Wittenberg soccer team whose father was battling the disease.
In an indication of just how serious Berger was about her commitment to fight ALS, Berger spearheaded the campaign for the walk in the midst of the field hockey season. She also was performing in a dance program through the university’s theatre and dance department, serving as the field hockey team’s representative on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, working as a student representative with Wittenberg’s career center and serving as a justice on the Student Senate Hearing Board. Now that’s a busy schedule.
She admitted balancing the obligations was tough but that effort was worth it. The initiative netted $500 and attracted about 30 participants from Wittenberg, including the entire field hockey team, many of her sorority sisters, and other student-athletes and friends.
Pleased with the result, Berger plans to return for the 2008 Walk to Defeat to ALS scheduled for September 21 in Dayton, one of about 150 sites across the nation that will host the event this year. Her anticipation will be all the greater with the knowledge that she accomplished exactly what she set out to do, which was to make a difference in the lives of others.
“I didn’t realize how much this affected people,” she said of the initiative. “I got e-mails from students at Wittenberg, alumni and local people. They called and e-mailed how much it meant to them that I was getting involved and how I was getting other people to do it. It just struck hard knowing it affected so many people the way it did.”
Berger, a member of Wittenberg's 2007 North Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championship field hockey team and a National Field Hockey Coaches Association national academic squad selection, is on track to graduate in 2010.
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