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’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.)