Ice-bucket challenge creates network of frigid fun, boosts ALS donations

That's cold: New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) takes part in the ice-bucket challenge.
That's cold: New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) takes part in the ice-bucket challenge. (JONATHAN LAI / Staff)
Posted: August 17, 2014

New Jersey's game of high-profile aqua-tag started this week with a video of the New Jersey Devils mascot hoisting an orange cooler of ice water onto team executive Scott O'Neil as the 1990 hit "Ice, Ice Baby" played in the background.

O'Neil, who is also CEO of the 76ers, then drafted Gov. Christie for a dousing.

From there, it took off: Christie nominated U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), who challenged the mayors of Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden. The governor also called out Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who brought in company executive Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg's video featured Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who sent it to second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard, and manager Ryne Sandberg.

The New Jersey contingent joined multitudes across the Internet agreeing to a blast of discomfort to raise awareness - and more than $9 million so far - for the ALS Association, which funds research and advocates for patients of the progressive neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or "Lou Gehrig's disease."

Rollins called ALS "something that's very close to baseball," referring to the New York Yankees legend Gehrig, who 75 years ago gave a public face (and his name) to the disease.

This summer's awareness campaign, which began in late July in Boston, has spread like a chain letter for the 21st century. People post videos of themselves getting drenched in ice water, then challenge friends, who have 24 hours to post their own video - or donate $100.

From July 29 to Friday, the national association had collected $9.5 million in donations, compared with $1.6 million during the same period last year. The Greater Philadelphia chapter had received $30,000.

Participants "understand the significance of ALS, and it's really giving a lot of hope to people who do have ALS and their family members," chapter spokesman Tony Heyl said.

The family of Tom MacAdams, a longtime Brooklawn councilman who died of the disease in March, said they were amazed by the campaign's viral nature, bringing in money alongside public recognition of a disease that has seen few high-profile advocates.

"My dad would have been absolutely thrilled," said Colin MacAdams, 27. "Because when we were going through it, we couldn't get answers. . . . And now to have that amount of money, that amount of research going in, is tremendous."

His sister Erin, 23, said she was glad the campaign was educating young people.

"And now my friends are asking me about what happened to my dad," she said. "It's great to be able to spread the word so that we can finally find a cure."

On Friday - what would have been MacAdams' 61st birthday - family members stood behind the headquarters for the Camden County Democratic Party in Cherry Hill, remembering MacAdams by dropping three bags' worth of ice onto his longtime friend, State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden).

"I can't think of a better reason to get dunked in ice than for the cause of helping ALS and certainly our good friend Tommy," Norcross said.

Norcross plans to take another hit Monday in Trenton, when he will line up with other lawmakers, including State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester), whom he challenged in his video.

Some people opt out. Sixers rookie Joel Embiid, recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot, declined out of fear the cast would get wet.

O'Neil said he told him, "Come on, just wrap it!"

Christie, however, jumped at the chance. Foregoing his usual suit and tie for a T-shirt and orange shorts, he let his younger children, Bridget and Patrick, flip a bucket of water over his head.

Booker, declaring "far be it from me to ever let the governor one-up me," took the punishment and then kicked it to Camden Mayor Dana Redd, his "sister in the South."

Redd bolstered herself by getting soaked in a crowd of laughing children at a city park.

From there, challenges went local, with Redd inviting Camden assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Whip Wilson. At the mayor's order, police chief Scott Thomson was drenched Friday night while in uniform. Also roped in were South Jersey mayors, freeholders and a university president.

Likewise in Pennsylvania, elected officials joined in, including Montgomery County Republicans, who took the plunge Friday afternoon at the local courthouse.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter "has not participated," his spokesman said.

As the water has flowed, so have the donations, with many people both recording a video and sending money.

O'Neil had one piece of advice for future participants: Dress down. His suit, wet since Monday, is still hanging to dry.

"I couldn't seem to shake the ice cold feeling off my back," he said. "I was cold all day."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220

@elaijuh

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