The following story appears in our September/October 2015 issue.
There is no cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Researchers say life expectancy for those with ALS is about three to five years from the time of diagnosis, and only about 10 percent live longer than 10 years.
Those statistics don’t dim the optimism of Steve Smith ’87 H&HD, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2002. Today, at 51, he continues to live the best life he can with the help of his wife, Chie, and their two adult children, Dante and Jazmin. He says that resilience is a lesson he learned from his days at Penn State, where his skills at fullback helped the Nittany Lions to the 1986 national title.
“Coach Joe Paterno was a big part of why I am still living now,” Smith says via email (he breathes through a ventilator and is unable to speak). “He taught me if you don’t win every battle on the football field, you just keep fighting. He taught me that a four-yard gain is a good play, so I have been trying to get four to five yards every day of my life.”
But ALS has taken a toll. “He’s pretty much paralyzed,” says Chie Smith, who is with him most of the time in their suburban Dallas home. Smith is confined to bed or a wheelchair, and requires a feeding tube. The family prepares only organic food, processed in a blender. His ventilator requires a breathing tube in need of constant suctioning.
He passes his time watching TV, and occasionally the family will rent a van to accommodate all his equipment and take in a movie, one of his favorite activities. “The good movie was Jurassic World,” he says. And he relies on a computer to communicate, controlling it with facial twitches and eye movements. It allows him to “speak” to his family, type emails, even control home appliances and electronics. “It’s enabled him to just have some independence,” says Chie.
But the voice: it’s synthesized, doesn’t sound like him, and even cops an attitude at times. Like a male Siri speaking the right words, but maybe not using the proper tone or inflection. “The way it answers sometimes it sounds like it has a little bit of an attitude, so that can be kind of funny,” his wife says.
“At least it is male voice,” says Steve Smith. “Chie wanted to give me a female voice.”
B.J. Reyes, associate editor
As we wrote Monday, magician Randy (aka Ran’D) Shine ’93, ’96g appeared Monday night on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, tasked with pulling off a trick that the famed duo couldn’t figure out. Well, there’s a reason those guys are so famous. Most of the show’s guest magicians aren’t able to manage it, and despite a pretty convincing effort, Shine couldn’t quite do it, either.
Do check out the video, which offers a cool glimpse into Shine’s path to a career in magic, and also shows off his card trick. It sure fooled us.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Penn State’s Lunar Lion team’s quest to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition is over. The group, which graced the cover of our Nov./Dec. ’13 issue, had aspirations of winning the competition by landing a spacecraft on the moon by the end of this year. The hard work that began in 2011 is not for naught, as the group still plans on reaching the moon within the next decade.
The news was announced in a press release, today. No matter how long it takes, we’re excited to see the team make it to the moon one day.
Bill DiFilippo, Online Editor
Randy Shine ’93, ’96g was on his way to a career in academics before deciding he wanted to give performing a try. A decade later, he’s a successful working magician better known as Ran’D Shine. Tonight, he gets to show what he’s got on national television.
Shine is set to guest tonight on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, the CW Network show on which all manner of magicians, illusionists, and mind-readers try to fool the famous duo with a trick. The show airs Monday at 8 p.m. EST.
To get a taste of Randy’s talents, check out the video below:
Pretty impressive. Don’t forget to tune in Monday night.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Arguably the best weekend in September (or late August) every year is the first home football weekend. There’s nothing better than thousands of people coming to Happy Valley for the first time since the previous November to watch the Nittany Lions square off against a non-conference foe.
The first one of those is still a few weeks away, but this is a big weekend in State College, because it’s a different kind of football weekend. Penn State’s men’s and women’s soccer programs have their only doubleheaders of the 2015 season this Friday and Sunday. Tonight’s slate features a men’s match against San Francisco and a women’s match against Duke, while Navy and Arkansas will face the men and women, respectively, on Sunday. The action begins tonight at 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Both evenings should be spectacular, but not only because of the nice weather or the fact that the promotions for both games are amazing (on Friday alone, you get a scarf for going to the men’s game and this poster for the women’s game).
No, these nights will be entertaining because they will showcase two of the premier soccer teams in the nation. Currently, the women are ranked No. 4 in America on TopDrawerSoccer.com, while the men are slotted at 15th. This makes Penn State one of the only schools in America with two programs ranked in the top-15 of both polls.
The teams also features some of the premier talent in America. In addition to ranking teams, TopDrawSoccer.com has a ranking of the top-100 players in both the men’s and women’s game. It contends that Penn State has the eighth-best male player in the country in junior forward Connor Maloney, while there are five women in the top-100: senior forward/midfielder Raquel Rodriguez – who you can read about in our most recent issue of the magazine – comes in at 13th, sophomore midfielder Emily Ogle is 27th, sophomore forward Frannie Crouse is 61st, senior forward Mallory Weber is 67th, and sophomore defender Maddie Elliston is 71st.
It should be a fantastic weekend for the “other” kind of football in State College.
Former Penn State linebacker Tim Shaw ’06 is battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). One of the ways that Shaw, who you can read about in our September/October issue, wants to raise awareness for the disease is to bring back the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people dump buckets of freezing cold water onto their heads to help raise money – last summer, it raised $115 million in six weeks – and awareness for ALS.
According to For The Win, Shaw already knows who he wants to nominate: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Few people, Shaw believes, are in more of a position to bring the cause to the forefront of the public’s attention again than the NFL Commissioner. Goodell is the most powerful person in a sport that Shaw knows could have possibly given him — and other retired NFL players — the disease. Former players with ALS received money in the NFL’s settlement of concussion-related lawsuits and according to the CDC are four times as likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
Shaw, who also tweeted his request to Goodell, wants the NFL’s commissioner to show that he is sympathetic to the risks that football players take by playing a game that could impact their long-term physical and mental well-being. There’s no word on whether or not Goodell will accept, but he’s done the challenge before, so what’s the harm in doing it one more time?
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
When we spoke to Nate Lee early this summer, he was still trying to figure out his plans for the next few months. “I know on June 6, we report to Guam,” he was saying, “but I’m not sure when we head out after that.” It was hard to blame him: Between a spring and summer itinerary that included trips to Hong Kong and Singapore, and games against opponents from Turkmenistan and India, it would be hard for anyone to keep up.
Lee, a redshirt junior defender featured in our fresh-off-the-printer Sept./Oct. issue, spent his much of his spring and summer as part of the Guam National Soccer Team. Born and raised in Maryland, he and his family qualified for citizenship in the tiny U.S. island territory in the Western Pacific through his great grandparents. For most of their lives, that fact didn’t have much impact on Lee and his brothers, all of whom—Nate, former Nittany Lion Justin ’12, and ex-Maryland star Alex—are or were college soccer standouts. That changed when Guam announced it planned to field a team for World Cup qualifying matches. “They started to find a lot of connections to American players,” Nate says, “so they decided to build a team from there.”
After splitting a pair of exhibition matches last spring, the “Matao,” as the national side is called, hosted and won a pair of qualifying matches in June against Turkmenistan and India. They still have a long way to go until 2018, but for a country with no World Cup history, it was a pretty good start. For Lee and his brothers, it already qualifies as an unforgettable experience. “It’s still kind of mind-boggling how this all worked out,” he says.
Lee is back in State College now, where he’ll be one of the veteran leaders for a Penn State squad that went 13-6-1 last season and made the second round of the NCAA tournament. He was among the players who joined coach Bob Warming earlier this week for the team’s preseason media day; you can check out their thoughts below.
Lee and the Nittany Lions, ranked 23rd in the national preseason poll, open their 2015 campaign this Friday afternoon in a home match against San Francisco. It’s part of a double-header with the sixth-ranked women’s team, who host Duke in the late game. Should be a great night in a perfect setting for futbol.
Ryan Jones, senior editor