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Ice Bucket Challenge hero Pat Quinn, 37

Pat Quinn

By Ray O'Hanlon

Pat Quinn, the Yonkers, New York native who inspired the world with the Ice Bucket Challenge against ALS, even as he battled the disease, has died aged 37.

Quinn, whose battle against Lou Gehrig’s disease inspired the international Ice Bucket Challenge fundraising campaign, was diagnosed with ALS seven years ago. His passing was announced by the ALS Association and his many supporters on Facebook.

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Quinn, who was born and grew up in Yonkers, New York, was co-founder of the campaign supporting medical research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was diagnosed with ALS on 8 March 2013, the Guardian newspaper was reporting Monday.

The ALS Association credited Quinn with helping popularize “the greatest social media campaign in history” while adding: “The Ice Bucket challenge dramatically accelerated the fight against ALS, leading to new research discoveries, expansion of care for people with ALS, and greater investment by the government in ALS research.”

The Guardian report continued: "Condolences to the Quinn family poured in on social media on Sunday night, with many expressing gratitude for the spotlight he drew to the disease and the need to find a cure. His supporters said on Facebook: “We will always remember him for his inspiration and courage in his tireless fight against ALS.”

The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media in the summer of 2014, when people around the world posted videos and photos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and challenging others to do the same while urging donations for ALS research.

Roughly 12,000 to 15,000 Americans may have ALS, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 5% to 10% of ALS cases are believed to be hereditary, but the cause is unknown and there is no cure.

Among Quinn’s many honors for raising awareness of ALS and promoting research was a nomination with fellow ALS activist Peter Frates as Time magazine person of the year. Frates died last year aged 34, seven years after his diagnosis.

Quinn, who became a motivational speaker even as he fought against ALS, was proud of his Irish heritage. In 2016 he led the Yonkers St. Patrick's Day Parade as its grand marshal.

As the Echo reported at the time: "Quinn was and remains at the forefront of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, connecting to a myriad of networks to popularize the challenge around the United States and around the world in the fight against Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

"Patrick Ryan Quinn is 33-years-old, and was born and raised in Yonkers. His Irish roots are in counties Down, Armagh, Cork, Clare and Westmeath.

"He attended St. John the Baptist grade school, Iona Preparatory School and Iona College. A strong athlete, he played basketball in high school and collegiate rugby."

The lohud.com news website, which covers Westchester County, reported that even when the Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, Quinn remained committed to the fight against ALS, starting the Quinn for the Win foundation.

"He was able to find a positive in almost every situation," close friend and Iona College rugby coach, Bruce McLane, told lohud.com.

"He always had the right words when you were down, and he was very compassionate, even though he was suffering tremendously."

Since the ice bucket challenge's inception, it has raised over $250 million worldwide.

"His legacy will be the Ice Bucket Challenge obviously, but, for me, he was just a great, great friend," said Seamus Keane, a Pearl River native and former college teammate.

"He got dealt a terrible hand. He did his best. I wouldn't have been able to deal with it the way he did, and he did the most out of anybody for that Lou Gehrig's disease - put a shine on it, made friends and really connected."

Keane, according to the lohud.com report, believes that most of Quinn's optimism and support came from his large family. Quinn came from an extensive family with a wide-ranging network of uncles, aunts and cousins, as well as the presence of his parents, Pat and Rosemary, and his brother, Daniel.

"That's how he stayed positive. He had a phenomenal family on both sides," Keane said.

"That was obvious from the beginning, since I first met him, and when he got sick, you could tell he had a phenomenal family. These weren't depressing, downtrodden fundraising events. They were full of his family, cousins, uncles, aunts, everybody's laughing, having a bite to eat, having a drink. We're doing this. We're doing that. That's how he was able to stay comfortable and be who he was."

Added the report: "While Quinn exuded toughness and, at times, stubbornness, his friends describe him as a gentle person who was dedicated to his family.

Quinn grew up in Yonkers and attended Iona Prep. Afterwards, he graduated in 2006 from Iona College, where he played rugby. The school inducted him into its rugby hall of fame and awarded him with the first-ever Pat Quinn Courage Award in 2019. It even dedicated the southwest corner of Mazzella Field as "Pat Quinn Corner."

A plaque by the spot bears a quote from Quinn: "Every day I fight. There are two ways to look at adversity. You can take the easy way out and accept it, or you can take the road with real value. You can fight like hell to make a difference. The impossible is only impossible if you allow it to be. Fight the good fight, and you can move the world."