School's challenge full of buckets of love

Natassia Bonyanpour By Natassia Bonyanpour

Aug. 30, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
Updated Sept. 4, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

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  Video by Natassia Bonyanpour for The Victoria Advocate

The setting sun shone through the trees at St. Joseph High School's practice football field.

The school's baseball coach, Mike Shimek, gently placed his wife's forehead in the palms of his hands and helped her move forward. Students then carefully raised a bucket hand-painted with a sunflower and spilled water over her head.

The woman in St. Joseph's Ice Bucket Challenge was Carolyn Shimek, who has battled ALS for almost a decade.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a fatal affliction that progressively robs the mind's ability to direct its body. Diagnosed in 2005, Shimek has been in a wheelchair since 2006.

Through social media, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral. Many have drenched themselves in ice water to raise funds and awareness for the disease.

But Wednesday night at St. Joseph was something more because of the school's support for the Shimeks. Most of the school - many joined together with buckets in hand - filled the football field. They were there to raise money to benefit the Shimek family.

The national faith program at the school, Marianist LIFE (Living in Faith Experience), took on the event and set up a Facebook page before the challenge to start raising funds. The program's community moderator, Norma Linda Cantu, said students were determined to create an ALS benefit in the Shimeks' name.

"We all couldn't wait to do it for Carolyn," Cantu said. "She is one of our parents and coach's wife - we are all so close; we are like a little family."

One of the students who was heavily involved in organizing the event was senior Sara Dodson.

"The idea started when I saw the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on the news," Sarah said. "A group of us ran to the office, very enthusiastic, and asked if we could host it."

At the challenge, Sarah took the microphone just seconds before Carolyn Shimek had the water poured onto her head.

She delivered a one-minute speech that asked all to reflect on the disease.

"So we ask you," Sarah said, "as the freezing cold water runs through your body and numbs it temporarily, think about how Ms. Shimek's body experiences paralysis permanently but not her strong and bright spirit."

Mike Shimek, who remained at his wife's side during the challenge, said the wave of attention that ALS has received in recent weeks has been overwhelming and beneficial.

"One thing about ALS is it's certainly underfunded," he said. "But this helps put it on the map. It's amazing how things basically ran across the whole globe - it's exciting to watch."

He said he has received endless support from the school where he teaches and beyond.

"My wife and I are humbled by the support and generosity of the community," he said. "This school has a reputation of good things - this is another example of how they recognize people in need."

After Carolyn Shimek had a small amount of water poured on her head, a countdown started as it came time for the students to partake in the event.

In the end, the students delivered a check for $10,000 to the Shimeks' fund - along with a challenge to all the private schools in the area, including Our Lady of Victory, Nazareth Academy and Trinity Episcopal schools.



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