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Brothers Pat (left) and Mark Thier took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last week in memory of their father, Leo. They are also raising funds for ALS through the annual ALS Walk in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Sept. 27. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

More than a challenge

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WORTHINGTON — When brothers Pat and Mark Thier accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that is sweeping the nation, they didn’t seek out an empty ice cream pail or five-gallon bucket to fill with a few handfuls of ice.

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No, they decided to take the challenge in style — wearing their ALS Walk T-shirts and standing below a tractor’s bucket as it tilted and drenched them in ice cold water. It was the least they could do to raise awareness and money for a debilitating disease that claimed their father in 1985.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Foundation website. When these cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement dies with them. Patients in the later stages of the disease are totally paralyzed, yet in most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert.

Leo Thier was barely in his 40s when he was diagnosed with ALS. The father of six children, they watched as his ability to function slowly decreased.

“It started with weakness in his thumbs, and spread to his arms, legs and neck,” explained Pat. “Eventually it got to his heart and he quit breathing.”

Leo lived with ALS for nearly six years — the average life expectancy for a person with ALS, once diagnosed, is two to five years.

“A lot of people have never liked talking about ALS,” said Mark, who was just 10 years old when his dad died.

“I kind of wish people would know what it’s about because I don’t wish that anybody would have to deal with it,” added Pat. “It’s probably one of the ugliest diseases I’ve ever seen anyone have to go through.”

The brothers reminisced about their dad who, even after losing the ability to use his arms, sat behind the steering wheel of the truck to go out and see how the crops were looking in the field. It was Mark who would reach over and take control of the driving as they traveled down short country gravel roads.

Mark also recalled having to feed his father through a tube; and when Leo’s speech began to deteriorate and visitors couldn’t understand what he said, the kids knew. Being around him every day, they learned to decipher the slurred speech.

“You’ve basically got to do everything for them once they’ve progressed to the point where they can’t physically do anything for themselves,” Pat said.

While it has been nearly 30 years since their dad’s death, the Thiers didn’t hesitate when one of their sisters nominated them for the Ice Bucket Challenge. The original challenge was first issued just a few weeks ago by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old Beverly, Mass., man diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates is credited with helping the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge go viral, and said in one of his videos that ice and ALS don’t mix.

His challenge on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter: Shoot a video of yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. In doing so, you nominate three people to do the same within 24 hours, or make a donation to the ALS Association. Many who have accepted the ice bucket challenge have not only doused themselves with ice water, but made a donation as well.

As of Sunday, the national ALS Association had received $70.2 million in donations, compared to $2.5 million during the same time period (July 29-Aug. 24) last year. The donations have poured in from existing ALS donors and 1.3 million new donors, the ALS Association reported.

“I think it’s awesome that people are doing (the challenge),” said Pat, adding that he hopes people gain more understanding about ALS. His wish is that people participating in the challenge not only dump ice over their head, but donate to the cause as well.

“That’s the key,” he said.

Last year, Leo’s six kids, their spouses, children and grandchildren established Leo’s Legacy, a team that raises funds for the Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota Chapter of ALS. The Chapter is hosting its Fourth Annual Sioux Falls Walk to Defeat ALS at 10 a.m. Sept. 27, at Sertoma Park in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“Everything we do goes there,” said Mark, adding that if people taking the Ice Bucket Challenge want to donate to the local chapter, they may do so.

To contribute to ALS through Leo’s Legacy, people may send funds to Mark Thier, 1016 W. Lake Ave., Worthington, or donate to the team’s ALS Walk at http://bit.ly/1p6LqFL.

While Pat and Mark received the Ice Bucket Challenge from their sister, Tammi, it was another sister, Mary, who said that for every like she received on her Facebook Ice Bucket Challenge video, she would donate $1 to ALS.

“We can’t hit like more than once,” added Pat with a laugh.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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