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With no voice, Brigance continues to spread his message

Ravens executive has lost most movement to ALS, but continues to hope for a cure

September 13, 2011|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

I have not received any speeding tickets lately, because I had to give up my keys. The story is, when I had more dexterity in my hands, some people claimed I sped through the halls, endangering the shins and feet of Ravens' employees. One day, practical joker and running backs' coach Wilbert Montgomery posted speed limit signs all over the facility. There was a set speed to go into and out of the cafeteria, and a different speed for cruising open hallways. I opened up the wheelchair one day and got it up to 3.7 mph, and had to shut her down before she overheated. He (Montgomery) got me pretty good with that one. It was classic.

Ravens' head coach John Harbaugh calls you "the strongest man in the building." Is he right?

Coach Harbaugh may claim that, and I appreciate the compliment, but I would have to defer to the men and women I see at the facility who, despite their apprehensions about seeing me fight this battle before their eyes, still treat me the same. Many people struggle with how to approach or deal with a person with a disability. I had the same uneasiness before I was diagnosed.

Do you think football played a part in your contracting Lou Gehrig's Disease?

It isn't known what causes ALS. It could be one or several factors. Scientists have determined a common gene in familial ALS, which is about 5 percent of the cases. The other 95 percent is called sporadic, and the cause is yet to be determined. People from all walks of life have been diagnosed with ALS.

I don't know if football or environment or diet caused ALS, but I am more concerned about finding a cure.

What, if anything, would the kid from Willowridge High (N.J.) do differently if he had his life to live over?

I would want to change the painful things because no one wants to willingly go through those situations. But without those times, I would not have known perseverance and character. Pruning is not a fun process, but very critical for growth and maturity.

Your whole life has been an uphill climb. People said you were too small to play linebacker, that Rice University football was a joke, that even as a Canadian Football League standout you'd never be good enough to play in the NFL, and that you'd never recover from the back injuries you suffered while playing in Miami. Did those issues help to prepare you for this?

Wait a minute. Who said Rice football was a joke? We went 9-34 over my career there They say losing builds character, and we had more than our fair share. One of my college coaches met with me my senior year, and said I had a good career, and that I should take my degree and enter the work force. I politely declined his offer and was blessed with a 12-year professional career. Every one of the moments you listed were opportunities for me to believe God's destiny, or accept man's limitations.

Do you still wear your Super Bowl and Grey Cup rings?

I do not wear them except for special occasions. They serve as remembrances of God's faithfulness whenever I see them.

Have you grown, as a person, in these last few years?

The last few years have shown me shortcomings and relationships that I had not cared for properly while pursuing some of my life goals. Time is the one thing that is not redeemable. Once it is gone, it is gone. We should make the most of every moment in our relationships and life goals.

That's your mantra, isn't it?

Yes.

What goes through your mind when you see video clips of yourself busting the wedge, making a Ravens' special teams' tackle and doing that oddball celebratory dance you used to do?

What goes through my mind is: somebody should give him a Valium, to come down. In all seriousness, I have great pride when I see clips of my athletic career, because God used me to do what some say couldn't be done. In First Corinthians 1:27, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things in the world to shame the things which are strong."

You've got those Bible verses down pat, don't you?

Spirit food gives me the strength to press forward.

When you get discouraged, what specific memories, on and off the field, do you recall, to help you bounce back?

When I get discouraged, I remind myself that God will never leave me or forsake me. Every challenge and triumph in my life has prepared me to stand at this moment under the weight of this adversity.

No doubt, ALS has brought clarity and greater purpose to our lives. We are all given a platform and audience to influence, no matter what walk of life we come from. We are seasoned by our adversities to help others experiencing the same difficulties.

How would you describe to the rest of us what it has been like to live these last few years?

I would describe living the last few years as challenging, yet insightful. My wife and I have seen great acts of kindness and disappointments. However. I am most proud that we haven't given up on God, or each other. We have used our trials to try and encourage others.

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