To Brad Dusek, ALS is just another opponent. But this time the battle isn’t on the football field. This enemy is waging war on his body.
A Football Legend
Brad was born in Longview, Texas, in 1950. Being a Texan, he’s no stranger to the game of football; he’s been around it his entire life. His dad was a coach, and Brad started playing flag football in elementary school. Tackle football in junior high paved the way to four years playing at Temple High School, and he was later inducted into the Texas High School Hall of Fame in 2018. Afterward, Brad went on to play at Texas A&M University where he was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.
As he was wrapping up his college career, he was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the NFL draft. During training camp, Brad was traded to the Washington Redskins and was a linebacker for them until he retired from professional football in 1982.
Brad and his family moved back to Texas, where he shared his love of sports with his four children. Little did they know how much the athletic mentality of their family would prepare them for the road that lay ahead.
A New Opponent
Brad’s first indication that something was wrong was in the spring of 2017. As an athlete, Brad was no stranger to pain. “When you play sports you get hurt. You learn what pain is. You deal with it,” he says.
But this was different. Weakness on the left side of his body progressed until his leg muscles were deteriorating and his knee was hyperextending. It affected his gait and his ability to get around. He endured multiple surgeries and saw specialists for a year and a half in pursuit of a diagnosis. Brad went from being able to walk, to walking with a cane, to using a walker, and then a wheelchair.
The family finally took him to Houston’s Mayo Clinic (in Rochester, Minnesota) in September 2018, where he was diagnosed with ALS. They’d done their research, so they weren’t entirely shocked. Marta, Brad’s wife, says, “In a way, the diagnosis was kind of a relief because we had an answer. You can’t fight the unknown. At least we had a name to put on it. We had identified our opponent.”
Fight Like an Athlete
Brad’s daughter, Kimmie, says, “As an athlete, you’re taught that defeat and failure are not an option. Dad’s life has been defined by sports. He has always been an athlete to us, to everyone who knows him.”
Brad and his family weren’t going to let facts about his diagnosis get them down, even though a quick internet search revealed that currently there is no cure and that the life expectancy is one to five years. “We had the attitude that we’re going to find a way. And if we don’t defeat it, we’re going to prolong it. We don’t accept losing, because we’re way too competitive,” says Kimmie.
Brad’s athletic career has been one of his biggest assets in his fight with ALS. He says, “Being an athlete, you learn you have to fight the disease as if it’s an opponent. Keep fighting. Never give up.”
Linebackers: Tackling ALS
Shortly after Brad’s diagnosis, Kimmie decided to bring their family and friends together and participate in The Walk to Defeat ALS in October 2018. They called their team Linebackers: Tackling ALS, in honor of their dad and his football position. They used the event to announce Brad’s diagnosis to his friends, work community and former teammates. His hometown newspaper, the Temple Daily Telegram, also ran a story on Brad. Kimmie’s goal was $500. Thanks in part to social media, they were flooded with donations, and in two and a half weeks had raised more than $11,000.
At the Walk to Defeat ALS, Brad’s family members took turns pushing his wheelchair. Kimmie says, “That was our first big encounter with the ALS Association of Texas and our first time seeing people in different stages of ALS.”
Even the youngest members of the family have found a way to show their love and support for Brad. In the summer of 2019, Kimmie received an email about the ALS Youth Challenge. After talking with her sister, Ashley, the two decided to each host a lemonade stand to raise additional funds for the ALS Association of Texas. “It was our way of getting the grandchildren involved to help Grandpa, to rally around him and to show him the love they have for him. It was also a way to get the community involved,” says Kimmie.
The ALS Association of Texas
Brad and Kimmie call the ALS Association of Texas their lifeline. When they have questions, it’s the one place they can turn to. Soon after Brad’s diagnosis, Kimmie knew her dad and Marta would be coming regularly to Houston, where she lives. “I realized he wouldn’t be able to even get in my house or go to the bathroom, so I reached out to the ALS Association of Texas. They met me with a portable ramp and a shower and toilet chair that we still have.”
Marta adds, “They came out to the house not long after Brad’s diagnosis, did an evaluation and made suggestions to make our home more accessible.”
Brad is grateful for the platform football has given him to raise awareness of ALS. People who have never heard of it, or really didn’t know much about it, now know about the disease because of him. Brad’s former high school, A&M and Redskin football teammates have been a great support. Many have contributed to the ALS Association of Texas, furthering research for a cure.
Family is Everything
Brad has not accepted the sense of defeat that is often overwhelming with this diagnosis. And in a large part, that is due to his family. “We didn’t want Dad to feel like he was alone. We wanted to give him something to live for,” says Kimmie. Since his diagnosis, they have made family vacations, spending time together over the holidays and other activities a priority. For a family that has always been close, the fight against ALS has drawn them even closer.
Technology has also been a great tool in helping the family stay connected. The grandchildren clamor to FaceTime with their grandpa. And Brad and Marta’s “Skylight” picture frame enables the siblings to upload and share photos that the couple sees almost instantly. Marta says, “We love it! Every once in a while we’ll look over and the picture frame has a banner on it that says ‘tap for new photos.’”
Hope for the Future
Brad has great hope for the future. “They’re going to find a cure. I guarantee it,” he says. “It’s going to be in the 3rd or 4th quarter, but they will find a cure for it. And I want to help.”
Support Texans living with ALS by joining us at the 16th Annual ALL in for ALS on January 25th.