Bring up cancer or AIDS and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an audience that knows exactly what you’re talking about. Bring up ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and you’re more likely to observe a sea of blank stares.

In an effort to spread the word about this terrible disease that affects tens of thousands of people in the United States each year, Juniors Kelly Kasner and Alex Nicely are putting out an incredible effort to put on an ALS benefit concert here at Western.

Nicely said that she doesn’t want to insinuate that diseases like cancer are unimportant, they just want to spread information about a disease that most people know nothing about. Also, “with cancer, you can recover and there actually are cancer survivors,” Nicely stated. “There are no survivors of ALS. Once you are diagnosed, basically you have two to five years of waiting until you die. It’s a very devastating and debilitating disease. Hopefully if we help out enough, and if knowledge continues to spread across the country, there will be more support for research so maybe someday they will find a cure.”

The purpose of the concert is not only to provide information to the public, but also to raise money from ticket sales and donations to give to the ALS Association, a not-for-profit group that is dedicated to the fight against ALS. “The ALS Association is such great organization,” Kasner said. “Not only are they dedicated to finding a cure, but they also provide support groups, medication, food, wheelchairs and other needs.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease because of the famous baseball player by that name who brought ALS into the public eye in the late 1930’s. Despite his .340 career batting average and impressive 2,130 consecutive games over a span of 14 years, due to ALS Gehrig was eventually completely paralyzed and later died of the disease.

The paralysis that ALS patients experience is due to the damage that is done to nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Degeneration of the motor neurons—which transmit signals from the brain to the muscles—eventually lead to total paralysis. The brain, however, usually remains completely unaffected. A great example of the mind power that is retained is the famed professor Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, and is considered to be one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists.

Kasner specifically is dedicated to this cause because of her own personal experience. Her mother died of ALS when she was only ten. She had to watch as her very active mother—who was a teacher, a musician and a world traveler—become paralyzed and eventually lose even her voice. “Even though her situation was so terrible, she made the best of it,” said Kasner. “Having seen her incredible efforts gives me strength now to work with the ALS Association not only to raise money, but to raise awareness.”

It seems as though when some people experience a terrible loss they shelter themselves from the experience and just try like hell just to move on with their lives. Kasner’s approach to healing is radically different: she’s fighting the disease that took so much from her.

After finding out about the annual Walk To D’Feet ALS in 2005, which is put on by the Evergreen Chapter of the ALS Association in order to raise money, Kasner decided to just try and get as many donations as she could and walk individually. She said she was astounded by the amount that she was able to raise in a short period of time, and she decided that for 2006 she would not only create a team of walkers, but she would devote a great deal of energy to raising money.

Kasner, Nicely and their team have had a bake sale and sent a lot of letters, but the benefit concert is by far their biggest push. May is ALS Awareness Month, and therefore the perfect time for the concert to occur. As far as who might be interested in coming, Nicely encourages “everyone who wants to make a difference and listen to good music. Not only will you be helping the ALS Association by buying a ticket, but you’ll also be getting the pleasure of listening to fine bands.”

The bands that will be featured are all local: Late Tuesday, Monkey Steals the Peach and The Love Lights. Late Tuesday, self described as indie pop emo, will be releasing a new CD at the event. Nicely described Late Tuesday as having “beautiful voices. It’s just really pretty music.”

The National Society of Collegiate Scholars—a national honor society with about 500 members on campus—is also helping out a great deal to put on the concert.

The concert itself will be on Thursday, May 25 at 7:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. in the VU Multipurpose Room. Tickets are $3 for students, and $5 for general admission.