Brigance beat­ing odds 10 years af­ter ALS di­ag­no­sis

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVID GINS­BURG

BAL­TI­MORE — O.J. Brigance will hold a cel­e­bra­tion Tues­day on the 10th an­niver­sary of a day that for­ever changed his life.

On May 16, 2007, the for­mer Bal­ti­more Ravens line­backer learned he had amy­otrophic lateral scle­ro­sis, or ALS. There is no known cure for the mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease com­monly called Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, and the life ex­pectancy af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed is usu­ally two to five years.

Only 10 per cent of those with ALS live 10 years beyond the di­ag­no­sis, which ex­plains why Brigance and his wife, Chanda, in­tend to savour the mo­ment.

“The day I was di­ag­nosed was one of the most chal­leng­ing times of my life, but it was also the day I was en­light­ened about what true love and true strength re­ally is,” Brigance said. “This is a priv­i­lege, to be liv­ing to­day, and we will cel­e­brate ev­ery day for the gift that it is. We mark 10 years of re­silience, bless­ings and re­la­tion­ships that have en­abled us to come this far.”

Brigance, 47, has main­tained an ac­tive life­style since the di­ag­no­sis. In 2008, the cou­ple formed the Brigance Bri­gade Foun­da­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to “equip, en­cour­age and em­power” those with ALS. And, de­spite us­ing a wheelchair to get around and a com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice that trans­lates his thoughts, Brigance serves as se­nior ad­viser to player en­gage­ment for the Ravens, a job he started in 2004. In ad­di­tion to as­sist­ing play­ers in all phases of their ca­reers, Brigance is a source of mo­ti­va­tion to the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“My in­ten­tion was to con­tinue be­ing a pos­i­tive con­trib­u­tor to my fam­ily and so­ci­ety,” he said. “It’s a mat­ter of fo­cus­ing on the abil­i­ties I still pos­sess, not what I have lost.”

Af­ter play­ing col­lege football at Rice, Brigance be­gan his pro­fes­sional ca­reer in 1991 with Bri­tish Columbia of the Cana­dian Football League. He joined the Bal­ti­more Stal­lions in 1994, and one year later that team won the Grey Cup.

His lone sea­son with the Ravens was in 2000. He had a team-high 10 tack­les on spe­cial teams dur­ing Bal­ti­more’s play­off run, which ended with a 34-7 win over the New York Gi­ants in the Su­per Bowl.

That made Brigance the only player to win a CFL ti­tle and a Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship for a team in the same city.

On Satur­day, the cou­ple will par­tic­i­pate in an event at Rice called “Cel­e­bra­tion of Courage: A Day Honor­ing O.J. Brigance.”

“They gave us two to five years, so that’s why I say it’s a bless­ing to be at 10 years,” Chanda said. “Be­cause you don’t know how much time you have with friends, loved ones and fam­ily mem­bers. That’s some­thing we’ve grown to ap­pre­ci­ate.”


O.J. Brigance at a cel­e­bra­tion in Bal­ti­more of the NFL football team’s Su­per Bowl vic­tory in 2003.

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