Haberstrohs’ Hot Pepper Challenge Picks Up Steam

Everyone in Westport knows Patty Haberstroh. The energetic, creative and deeply committed family programs specialist for the town’s Human Services Department ensures that our neediest neighbors get the resources they deserve — and that those of us with the ability to help get a chance to do so.

Patty Haberstroh

Patty’s husband Charlie is embedded in town too: He chairs the Parks and Recreation Commission. Patty’s sons starred on Staples High School sports teams, and retain strong ties to their hometown.

So when Patty was diagnosed 3 months ago with ALS, they did what the Haberstroh family always does: got together, and got to work.

The result is the #ALSPepperChallenge. It’s like the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge — except much, much hotter.

The idea is to eat a hot pepper — habanero or jalapeno — on camera. You’re filmed making a pledge to  help find a cure. Then you nominate someone (or many others) to do the same.

A project like this needs a kick start. Patty’s son Tom — a longtime ESPN basketball writer — was just the man. His sports and media connections pushed the #ALSPepperChallenge into overdrive.

Since Christmas, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley have eaten peppers — and raised funds. So have Domonique Foxworth, Dan Le Batard and the Miami Heat.

Oh, yeah: The Staples boys basketball team is doing it too.

Media giants like USA Today and People magazine covered Patty’s #ALSPepperChallenge.

“I’d never eaten a habanero, and I never want to again. But I’ll eat it a thousand more times if it means my mother and others living with ALS can kick this horrible disease,” Tom told People.

“There is no effective treatment for ALS. There is no cure. Anything we can do to change that, we’re going to try.”

(If you’re wondering: Why hot peppers? There are few things that make you feel more alive than eating one.)

Patty has been buoyed by support from friends, her sons’ and daughter’s friends, and complete strangers.

The average life span after diagnosis is 3 to 5 years. “I’m fighting against time here,” Patty said.

“I pray that these hot pepper eaters are raising enough money to find a cure for me and others before it’s too late.”

Anyone who knows Patty Haberstroh — and in Westport, that’s all of us — knows she is not sitting back, feeling sorry for herself.

She told People: “The adage to live each day fully has never rung more true to me. I’m saying to people that I’m lucky in that you often wish in a memorial service that the person who has passed away could hear the wonderful things being said about them. I am reading and seeing those things said while I’m very much here!”

The accolades will continue.

As will the hot pepper-eating, video-making and fundraising — in Westport, and around the world.

(For more information — and the donation page — click here.)

13 responses to “Haberstrohs’ Hot Pepper Challenge Picks Up Steam

  1. Awesome lady..please contribute if you can..must find a cure for this horrible disease! #ALSpepperchallenge! Go team Patty!

  2. Patty is a local treasure! Let’s all donate, Westport!

  3. Lori Winthrop Dockser

    Go team Haberstroh … incredible
    Family! Westport is a better place to
    Live because of these amazing people

  4. Charlie Haberstroh

    Thank you, Dan. For readers who wants donate please go to classy.org/campaign/alspepperchallenge/c161855 or directly to als.net. ALS is not an incurable disease just an underfunded one. Charlie Haberstroh.

  5. Steve Haberstroh

    Dan, thank you so much for profiling this! Westport has been an amazing place to grow up (and now work). I cannot tell you how supportive and down right AWESOME the Westport community has been during this challenge. It has reconnected me with friends I have not seen since Coleytown El and Minors Baseball. On a daily basis, a familiar face from childhood pops in my news feed eating an insanely hot pepper all to support my mom. Westport friends have helped propel this to platforms such as ESPN, People.com, the NBA (and are working other TV avenues). They have helped take this challenge to the Phillipenes, Hong Kong and even New Zealand. How cool! Westport is full of kind and creative folks, would love to see our artist friends get involved. Be creative and have fun!

    Lucky to be part of this community.

    Also huge props to Nancy Clark, who for so many years pointed Westporters in the right direction at the Public Library. Nancy has been a tremendous resource and support for my mother as they face this disease together. Nancy pointed us to the folks at ALS TDI who WILL find a cure.

    Westport gives and doesn’t stop giving.

    Thank you!

  6. Best of luck with this challenge! I hope you raise lots of money to help find a cure for this horrible disease. Having watched my Dad suffer through dying of this disease was one of the hardest and saddest experiences of my life. Nobody deserves to die this way.
    He passed away in 1982 and they still have not found a cure 🙁
    While I was excited about the Ice Bucket Challenge and all the money and awareness it raised, there were so many people who just used it as a way to show off and didn’t donate any money. That took away some of the importance of the idea, and the seriousness of it.
    I am hoping your challenge will be even more successful and raise awareness among many people who have no clue what ALS even is.

    • Steve Haberstroh

      Jill. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s for this reason we are working so hard to spread this challenge.

      Yes, it’s true many folks who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge were doing so for vanity reasons, but every post helped raise awareness and ultimately, it was responsible for raising over $125 million for various non profits relating to ALS with 70% of funds going to research. And progress has been made!

      We hope and pray that our challenge can meet or exceed the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge and we were thrilled when one the original founders of Ice Bucket participated in our challenge last week. Look closely at the joy on his face.


  7. Julie Shapiro

    Great article – patty is a close friend. Thanks for writing this

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Bill Macnamara

    I am praying for you, Patty. With Your can-do
    Spirit, we’ll help you overcome this obstacle. You are loved by everyone. Take care and God Bless

  9. Audrey Hertzel

    I’m so sorry to hear this 🙁 I’ve worked with this amazing woman with regard to the annual town holiday gift giving program for many years; and if anyone is a fighter, Patty is! While I can’t tolerate those spicy peppers, YIKES!, I’m more than happy to support Patty and ALS with a donation. Also, please keep me in mind if you do any fundraising events — I have a small business doing glitter tattoos! (((((((((Patty))))))))

  10. Valerie Smith-Malin

    Patty is a such an encouraging and absolutely lovely person. It’s no wonder she and her family got this rolling! I just donated.

  11. Kendall Gardiner

    I am so deeply saddened to hear this news, and my heart goes out to everyone in the Haberstroh family.
    Charlie, I sent you an email with an interesting link.
    Patty, there ARE a minority of cases when people go into a kind of remission, but Doctors and Scientists have no idea how or why….so no one even mentions it bc they don’t want to give false hope.
    But progress IS being made.
    I want to reach out to offer help. Charlie has my number.
    ❤️Love and healing thoughts,❤️❤️