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.
“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.)
When Jessica Gelman starred on the Staples High School basketball court in the early 1990s, Tom Haberstroh was just entering elementary school.
As he grew up — and became a Wrecker hoops player himself — their paths crossed occasionally. Tom says, “She was the first athlete to teach me that girls could kick guys’ butts.”
Jessica Gelman, at work. (Photo/Sports Business Journal)
Jessica went on to star at Harvard, play professionally in Europe and enter the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. After earning an MBA at Harvard, she’s now a high-powered vice president with the Kraft Sports Group, handling marketing strategy for the New England Patriots and Revolution. Last year, Sports Business Journal named her to their “Forty Under 40” team.
Tom’s path took him to Wake Forest. He’s been an ESPN NBA analyst since 2010.
Jessica Gelman fights for a rebound, as a Staples junior in 1992.
Both Jessica and Tom are numbers guys people. She took high-level math classes at Staples, learned to use data as a pyschology major in Harvard, and became an early leader in the field of sports analytics. (Her database of 3.4 million names makes Kraft the envy of the sports world.)
A decade ago, she taught a course on sports analytics at MIT Sloan School of Management with Daryl Morey. When he got a new job — general manager of the Houston Rockets — they turned the class into a conference.
The initial event, in 2006, drew 150 people. (“Half of them were my friends,” Jessica jokes.) Nine years later, she’s still the chair.
This year’s conference — tomorrow and Saturday (February 27-28) — will draw over 3,000 industry leaders. Michael (“Moneyball”) Lewis, statistician Nate Silver, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, and league commissioners Adam Silver and Rob Manfred are among the presenters.
So is Tom Haberstroh.
Tom Haberstroh, as a Staples senior in 2004.
Like Jessica, he’s a sports industry leader in the field of analytics. He parlayed his background — which included Jen Giudice’s AP Statistics course at Staples, and the strong influence of math teacher Rich Rollins — into a highly respected specialty.
(In a small-world coincidence, Jessica’s former colleague Daryl Morey used an ESPN statistical segment of Tom’s to promote Dwight Howard for the NBA All-Star game.)
A few years ago, Tom introduced himself to Jessica at the Sports Analytics Conference. They kept in touch. This year, Jessica asked Tom to moderate a panel on the growth of sports science and data collection.
The 2 former Staples basketball players are huge fans of each other.
“Jess just won the Super Bowl with the Patriots,” Tom says. “Now she’s running a Super Bowl conference of her own.”
“Tom’s stuff is great!” Jessica replies.
Both look forward to this weekend’s conference. Tom jokingly calls it “the Super Bowl for sports nerds.”
Don’t be fooled. If the conference adds a 2-v-2 basketball game to the agenda, Jessica Gelman and Tom Haberstroh will kick everyone’s butts.
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