O.J. Brigance will hold a celebration Tuesday on the 10th anniversary of a day that forever changed his life.
On May 16, 2007, the former CFL and NFL linebacker learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. There is no known cure for the motor neuron disease commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the life expectancy after being diagnosed is usually two to five years.
Only 10 per cent of those with ALS live 10 years beyond the diagnosis, which explains why Brigance and his wife, Chanda, intend to savour the moment.
“The day I was diagnosed was one of the most challenging times of my life, but it was also the day I was enlightened about what true love and true strength really is,” Brigance said. “This is a privilege, to be living today, and we will celebrate every day for the gift that it is. We mark 10 years of resilience, blessings and relationships that have enabled us to come this far.”
Chanda noted: “Some people would wonder, ‘Why are you celebrating this date?’ The answer is, we’re celebrating life. We’re celebrating that all things are possible.”
Brigance, 47, has maintained an active lifestyle since the diagnosis. In 2008, the couple formed the Brigance Brigade Foundation, an organization whose mission is to “equip, encourage and empower” those with ALS.
And, despite using a wheelchair to get around and a communication device that translates his thoughts, Brigance serves as senior adviser to player engagement for the Ravens, a job he started in 2004. In addition to assisting players in all phases of their careers, Brigance is a source of motivation to the entire organization.
“My intention was to continue being a positive contributor to my family and society,” he said. “It’s a matter of focusing on the abilities I still possess, not what I have lost.”
After playing college football at Rice, Brigance began his professional career in 1991 with British Columbia of the Canadian Football League. He joined the Baltimore Stallions in 1994, and one year later that team won the Grey Cup.
His lone season with the Ravens was in 2000. He had a team-high 10 tackles on special teams during Baltimore’s playoff run, which ended with a 34-7 win over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Now he’s marking an accomplishment of a different kind.
“We don’t have anything over-the-top planned because, really, just by opening our eyes and being alive, that day is worthy of a celebration,” Chanda said.
On Saturday, the couple will participate in an event at Rice called “Celebration of Courage: A Day Honoring O.J. Brigance.”
“They gave us two to five years, so that’s why I say it’s a blessing to be at 10 years,” Chanda said. “Because you don’t know how much time you have with friends, loved ones and family members. That’s something we’ve grown to appreciate.”