Coming Home: My Interview With Steve Gleason | Community Spirit
It's the ultimate story of a local boy, making good. Former Gonzaga Prep standout, Cougar football legend and New Orleans Saints hero Steve Gleason made a name for himself on a national stage. Now, he's fighting for his life and sharing his story with KXLY.
I have been a reporter for 12 years and have interviewed presidential candidates, celebrities and convicted killers. But, I have never been nervous to do an interview - until yesterday. As we pulled up to the Gleasons' vacation cabin at Schweitzer, I felt a knot in my stomach. I wasn't nervous about what questions to ask or what kind of response I would get - I was nervous, because I want more than anything to "do right" by this man and his family.
A little background that you'll see more of in our special report tomorrow: Steve was diagnosed last year with ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease. There is no cure - and, the disease is a painful progression. Steve kept the diagnosis secret for awhile and showed no outward symptoms. But, last fall, he told his story to the world and it took off like wildfire. After appearances at WSU and in the Superdome with the Saints, it was clear - Steve's condition was deteriorated quickly. When we met him yesterday, he used a walker to greet us at the door. Steve can't walk on his own, he needs help feeding himself and getting out of bed. As his wife Michel puts it, "Coming from someone whose able to do everything better than almost anything, his positive attitude and ability to live like he's living and still loves life - it's amazing."
We sat down with Steve and Michel for a little over an hour and they opened up their hearts and their world to us. We met the joy of their life - their son Rivers, who was born 10 months after his dad was told he has two to five years to live. Seeing Steve look at and talk to Rivers, you can't help but think this is just not fair. This man who has, by all accounts, lived an incredible life in service to others, should get the reward of being around to raise his son. But, Steve doesn't think that way. He's not focused about what he can't do - he's too busy living life and raising awareness about ALS.
"We're doing everything we can to slow progression and find a cure," Steve told me. "Because at the end of the day, that's what helps you sleep at night."
Steve and Michel have found a way to turn this incredible challenge into a reason for living. In fact, Michel says 2011 was the best year of her life. Yes, she has a beautiful baby boy who was born during this turbulent time. But, 2011 also brought Michel and Steve closer than they ever imagined. She shouldn't have to be a caretaker to the husband she just married four years ago; but, it's forced them to spend all their time together - and, Steve knows for sure he couldn't do it without her.
I wasn't around WSU when Steve was there, putting the hurt on offensive players from across the Pac-10. But, I'm lucky enough to know a lot of people who were there during that time, including my husband. He told me last night, "There's not a person who knows Steve who doesn't say he's the greatest man they know." They would have said that before this diagnosis, I'm told. Which is why those friends and teammates are sticking by him now, through the greatest challenge of his life. He's not afraid to ask for help, but most of the time, he doesn't have to. Several old friends were there when we interviewed Steve - watching from the kitchen. They are there to help him up the stairs, use the bathroom, get a drink of water or carry Rivers. They're carrying Steve, too - and, he's letting them. During our interview, he was most emotional when talking about those friends - and about all the incredible lessons he learned while growing up in Spokane.
"Just the memories I have, the friends I have made here in Spokane - that has lasted me my whole life."
We spent about an hour and a half with Michel, Steve, Rivers and their entourage of friends and family. I left, thinking I could listen to them talk all night. When we pulled away, I still had that pit in my stomach, but not because I was nervous. I am sick about what this family is facing - I am desperate to tell their story and pay them the respect they deserve.
Our story airs on Wednesday night on KXLY during the 6:00 p.m. newscast. If you want to help the Team Gleason cause, you can do so in a couple of ways - you can go to www.TeamGleason.org and buy some t-shirts or donate outright. Or, you can go to the KXLY Facebook and simply hit "like." For every new "like" we get in the month of March, we'll donate a quarter to Team Gleason. Already like us? Tell your friends - and, spread the love.