NEW ORLEANS -- Gail Gleason works with students at Washington State University. You need not look far for her inspiration, surrounded by pictures of her son Steve, the full of life baby, the exploring toddler and the hero that helped lift a city -- and now the husband and father battling ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease.
“Every time I see him, it takes my breath away,” Gail Gleason said. "Oh my gosh, this is my baby boy that when I think it can't get worse, it gets worse.”
Little scared Gail or Steve growing up in Spokane, Wash. soccer was his first love, then baseball, but ultimately football stole his heart and that was just fine with mom who wasn't so much worried about Steven getting hit.
"It was mostly Steven, ‘Don't hit them so hard. Think about that other mother,” Gleason’s mother recalled laughing.
Always a fighter
Gail's always known she's got a fighter. As a baby, Steve's feet turned inwards and he was forced to wear his shoes on the wrong feet. The prognosis wasn't good.
"The first doctor that we went to said when he was 15, he would need surgery and he would never be able to run. He was wrong.”
Years later another doctor would not be wrong. It began when the athletic former New Orleans Saints star was leaving the grocery store.
"He called one day and he said mom, I just fell flat on my face in the parking lot of the Whole Foods,” Gail Gleason remembered."For him to do something like that, it scared him. It scared me.”
And in January 2011, Gail, Steve and Steve's wife, Michel, heard the words they couldn't believe.
"He (the doctor) got us all in the room and he said, “I hate to tell you this, but you have ALS.’ Steve said, ‘How many times have you been wrong?’ And he said, ‘Not very many.’”
A vow to fight the disease
Not knowing anything about the progressive muscle degenerative disease with no cure, Steve made a vow right then and there.
“How do we fight it? What can we do about it? We’re not going to take this sitting down,” Gail Gleason said of her son’s resolve to fight ALS.
And he hasn't, leading the fight to raise funds and awareness about a life-stealing disease few know much about. This summer he spearheaded a two-day summit with the best of the best to make something happen.
"And it was packed with ideas,” said Gail Gleason, “and it was a challenge. He challenged them, ‘Hey, I don't want to hear that this is what you’re saying, that this is the status quo. We need to leave here changing that."
Remembering an electric night in 2006
That famous September night in 2006 when Steve blocked the now historic punt Gail Gleason wasn't in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, but in September of 2011, exactly five years to the day later, she was, and Steve again brought fans to their feet and tears down their cheeks.
"It was almost like hearing the roar build as they realized he was walking out there, and the whole place just erupted," Gail Gleason said.
She says it does a mom's heart good to know her son has been embraced so by New Orleans, now Steve's second hometown. "That’s the kind of thing that represents the kind of community sense that comes from New Orleans and the Saints people -- that's what they do, they are family."
Steve always wanted to be more than a football player and that he is an inspiration to many who had never heard of Steve Gleason or ALS, but Gail is first and foremost a mom. She doesn't sleep or eat well living with the unknown. She doesn't deny or avoid thinking about the future, but like Steve the future is today.
"I don't like this. It’s a shock every time I see him,” said Gail. “But if he's not letting it overwhelm him, then I can't let it overwhelm me.”
"Does that inspire me every morning to think I don't want to get out of bed this morning, but I bet Steven is getting out of bed this morning, so I think I will.”