Coach With ALS Using Inspiring Film to Motivate Others

When you have a terminal disease, you can shrink into the shadows of despair or, in some cases, you can choose to use yourself as a vehicle for inspiration.

ALS has robbed Jeff Fogel of the ability to physically move, but he's using a movie about his life to move others. It's called "Who Is Lou Gehrig?" a short film which will premiere at the next Miami Film Festival.

Fogel is a youth basketball and football coach. Knowing his time is short as Lou Gehrig's Disease ravages his body, Fogel is taking the film on a tour of local schools. His first stop was an auditorium full of seventh and eighth grade students at Highland Oaks Middle School in northeast Miami-Dade.

"I wanted to educate them about ALS, spread a little bit more awareness, but I also want to inspire them," Fogel said.

The film, directed by Miami native Gil Green, is not a documentary. It's a stylized look at life through Fogel's eyes, complete with fantasy sequences reminiscent of Being John Malkovich.

In one scene, Fogel thinks he's coaching the Miami Heat instead of the girls' travel team he still helps coach to this day. The Heat's Udonis Haslem is the movie's executive producer and major source of financing.

The students at Highland Oaks soaked it all up, captivated by the story and by Fogel's message. 

"You have to enjoy your life, you have to enjoy the moment, that's how I live my life day by day," Fogel told the kids in a question and answer forum after the film ended. "So whatever obstacle you guys are going through, whatever challenges, you'll get through it."

The children and adults in the room witnessed a special moment, according to the school's principal. Speaking of Fogel's impact, Cheryl Kushi said, "You've taught them courage, you've taught them hope, you've taught them compassion, that, to me is more powerful than what you're gonna learn in a textbook."

Fogel's idea is elegant in its simplicity: Make a positive impact on the kids instead of wallowing in self-pity.

"If you think negative thoughts all the time, then negative things are going to happen," Fogel told his audience. 

Diagnosed in 2012, Fogel said he's living on borrowed time. His doctor told him he should've been dead by now, but since he's clearly not, Fogel has goals he's still pursuing.

"You know, I've always wanted to meet Ellen DeGeneres," he said, which drew big laughs.

For the time being, he'll settle for inspiring kids. Fogel said someone in the audience might become the scientist who finds a cure for ALS.

"I just want to make a difference," Fogel said. "And I hope you guys can take a lesson from this movie and from meeting me, and grow up to be great people."

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