May 3, 2013
At some point in life, most everyone pauses to think about "what if" questions.
What if you were given bad news? What if the bad news was that you had a terminal illness, an illness with no cure?
Hoke County High School baseball coach Mike Ray was faced with that news when doctors diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
"At first it was sad and I didn't really know how to take it in. That was my coach since I was a freshman," Hoke County junior Bryan Santigo said.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ALS is a rapidly progressive neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells that control different body functions. An estimated 5,000 people in the United State are diagnosed with ALS each year.
Initial symptoms of ALS include twitching, cramping and stiff muscles, weakness in the arms and legs, slurred and nasal speech, and difficulty swallowing or chewing.
Often times the initial symptoms are overlooked.
"I told the doctor there's something wrong with my foot," Ray said. "She thought I had stressed it on the treadmill, but she wasn't sure."
Ray had several appointments and tests over the next several months, and on Nov. 6, 2012, doctors delivered the news to him that he has ALS.
"The first couple of days was sad, but I just decided sad ain't the way to be," he said.
Most people would call Ray "tough." He spent 21 years in the United State Army in the special operations unit where he served in Operation Desert Storm. In addition to coaching baseball at Hoke County, he is also a football coach and a marathon runner.
"I ran the first Outer Banks marathon – first and second. I look at those medals, and those were the days. Now I have scooter at work. That's even worse," he says with a laugh.
Ray continues to coach the Hoke County baseball team this season, and he was awarded the N.C. High School Athletic Association Courage Award earlier this week.
The way Ray has chose to live with ALS has brought the Hoke County community together, but it has also had an impact around the region. Opposing coaches are raising money for ALS research, and players from other teams make a point to walk to the Hoke County dugout.
"All of the guys from the other teams have come across and made sure they shook my hand. It's just another wonderful thing," said Ray.
Ray knows there is no cure for ALS, but he doesn't let that impact his love for life.
"I've never seen coach Ray without a smile on his face. No matter what he has a positive attitude," Santigo said.
"You don't know what day it's going to be. I'm just taking it a day at a time. I guess I'll enjoy it until I can't," said Ray.
Until that day, Ray plans to keep showing up at the ballpark.
"Being around the guys, I love it," he said.