It's been an eventful, sometimes difficult summer for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brian Boyle.
He got married one week after he and the New York Rangers were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. Three weeks after that, he signed a three-year contract with Tampa Bay.
But a summer that started with such promise ended tragically with Boyle burying his best friend. It was at the recent wake of former Boston College hockey player Corey Griffin that Boyle caught up with another friend, former BC baseball captain Pete Frates, the man who unwittingly touched millions of people as one of the driving forces behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
"Isn't it amazing? This thing was pretty organic by Pete and his family," Boyle told NHL.com. "Who hasn't done it yet? You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't. That's got to be the coolest feeling for Pete."
Frates was 27 in 2012 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, a degenerative condition that gradually erodes voluntary muscle action. Frates helped launch the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 29 to raise awareness and funding to fight the disease.
Since then, thousands of people, from former President George W. Bush to Microsoft founder Bill Gates to media titan Oprah Winfrey, have participated in the challenge, helping to raise tens of millions of dollars in a matter of weeks. Even Boyle, a friend of Frates since their time together at BC, was taken by the viral movement.
The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised $79.7 million from July 29 to Aug. 25. In the same time frame in 2013, the ALS Association raised $2.5 million. The Association said it received money from 1.7 million new donors since July 29.
"People can be as ambitious as they want. You have to have a certain gift. You never really know until you're faced with [adversity] if that gift will come through," Boyle said. "You always thought [Frates] was going to do something. You always thought he was going to be something. You always have a good time when you're with him."
Boyle and Frates hit it off immediately after arriving on campus in 2003. They formed a tight-knit corps of athletes that eventually included football captain Matt Ryan, now the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, and basketball star Jared Dudley, who is a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Frates, a three-sport star in hockey, baseball and football at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., bonded with Boyle, and the group would sometimes take over the campus arena to play late-night shinny hockey. On occasion, they'd start an impromptu ball hockey game on campus.
Eventually, Boyle and Frates became fixtures at each other's games. After losing to the University of Wisconsin in the title game at the 2006 NCAA Frozen Four, a game when Boyle's second-period turnover led directly to the Badgers' tying goal, the Eagles sat through a long, painful overnight flight from Milwaukee back to Boston. Though he still felt the sting of the loss, Boyle was at Frates' baseball game the next morning.
Close as they were, Boyle had no idea how to respond when Frates was diagnosed with ALS. Unsure of what to say, he kept his distance. The longer he waited to reach out, the more guilty he felt. As Boyle became wracked with anxiety, it was Frates who eventually called to say hello.
"Dude, I meant to talk to you. How are you doing?" Boyle asked.
"I'm doing [bleeping] great," Frates responded, a testament to his signature positivity.
Two years later, with Frates leading a sea change in the medical community despite being confined to a wheelchair, Boyle remembers that call.
"This guy is a special breed," he said. "I'm reminiscing now just talking about it. I was laughing out loud."
Boyle is impressed by the fruits of Frates' recent fundraising efforts, but he isn't shocked. After all, he's seen miracles happen before.
In 1999, Boyle's father, Arthur, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Eight months after his kidney was removed, three tumors were found in his right lung and the father of 13 children was given months to live.
Desperate for a miracle, Arthur Boyle travelled to Medjugorje, a mountain town in Bosnia and Herzogovina which has become a popular site for religious pilgrimages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary was first reported there in 1981. After making a pilgrimage, Arthur Boyle visited his doctors, who found that his cancer had disappeared.
Years later, Brian Boyle took the rosaries his father brought home from that trip and gave them to Frates.
"My father has had a miracle in his life and his life has changed now. The miraculous healing Jesus gave him was right in front of my face. I saw it happen," Boyle said. "We pray for Pete and Pete shows people by example what he's doing. He ain't quitting. He's carrying the torch right now."
Frates' incredible efforts with the Ice Bucket Challenge took a tragic turn when Griffin visited Nantucket Island to raise money for ALS after having already raised $100,000. Early on the morning of Aug. 16, Griffin dove into Nantucket Harbor and drowned. He was 27.
"It's been a hard week for me. I'd say maybe the hardest week of my life. [Corey] had only moved down to New York a few months ago and we were hanging out all the time. We actually made a habit of going to church together," Boyle said. "Pete and Corey were close. Corey was really adamant about helping Pete's cause."
Four days after Griffin's death, 8,000 people attended his wake in Massachusetts, with Frates leading the procession in another example of being there for his friends when they needed him most. It's an admirable quality that has helped Frates shock the medical community in a matter of weeks thanks to one simple challenge.
"Why does a kid who has done everything right deserve this? He looks at it as what's done is done and he's trying to fix it. He's not giving up," Boyle said. "We haven't given up hope on Pete at all, no one has. I don't talk about Pete in the past tense; he's with us now. He's done a lot more for a lot of people than I can say I'm doing or many others are doing. It's truly, truly inspiring."
Author: Tal Pinchevsky | NHL.com Staff Writer