The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will honor Pete Frates, a former university baseball player who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), with its 2017 Inspiration Award for his perseverance, dedication and determination, and for being a role model and source of hope to others.
The NCAA Honors Celebration will take place at the Association’s January Convention.
Frates was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012, some five years after graduating from Boston College, where he played baseball for the Eagles. But the outfielder who tied for the team record for home runs in his junior and senior seasons declared that his diagnosis was an “opportunity to change the world,” and he began a journey that has inspired many.
“After being told you have two to five years to live, who would say that?” John Frates, Pete’s father, said in a press release. “Unless you have experienced competition at the highest levels, overcome obstacles, worked so hard to make yourself a better human, a better athlete, a better person.”
“You deal with adversity and you’re better because of it,” said Tom Bourdon, who played at Boston College when Frates was appointed director of baseball operations at the college — a job he took less than a month after his diagnosis.
Frates embraced his new job, and kept working to organize the Eagles Career Night – an event designed to help student-athletes find a professional career after baseball. He also adopted a new team: the ALS community, helping to raise funds and awareness toward a cure.
During a trip to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, his first away game as operations director, Frates threw out the ceremonial first pitch after making a speech that has stayed with the Boston College players:
“It was the first real conversation he had with us about the diagnosis,” said Bourdon. “He talked about how important teammates are throughout your life. He said his BC teammates are his brothers, and now he has hundreds to lean on while he’s going through this.”
As Frates progressively lost his physical abilities, players and coaches aided him in every way they could, from tying his shoes to helping him to eat.
He continued to travel with the team for another three years, but by Bourdon’s senior year, he had lost an ability to walk. His presence, however, continued to be an example. “He’s done more for these boys and our program than our program has ever done for him,” the current Boston College baseball head coach, Mike Gambino, said.
Frates, who is now wheelchair-bound, without use of his arms or legs, and lost the ability to speak, had often called ALS “the beast” and himself “the bionic man.” He lives at his home in Beverly, Massachusetts, where a special care unit has been set up and a nurse is available.
In July 2014, Frates began an initiative that would become his biggest contribution to the ALS community: the Team Frates Train campaign — raising in the summer of 2014 over $220 million for the ALS Association. The Frates Train joined with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and Boston athletes and other celebrities – like LeBron James, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey – all joined in, donating money in Frates’ honor and posting videos on their social media accounts.
“When he was diagnosed, he immediately made up his mind to go change the world of ALS,” said Ryne Reynoso, a former Eagle teammate. “And he’s done it.”