With his days on the slopes limited, Steamboat’s Tim Fletcher and his family are fighting ALS with ski area laps
April 11, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs Olympian Bryan Fletcher wasn't overly thrilled to be pulled into the Ice Bucket Challenge wave that swept social media in late summer 2014.
"I remember thinking specifically, 'I don't really want to do this,'" he said Wednesday.
But, he's spent plenty of time in his life helping charities. He was on the verge of starting his own charity to help children recovering from cancer, a battle he himself survived. Plus, he's a good sport, so after a warm summer day Nordic combined training, he filled a bucket with water and ice — heavy on the ice, he insists — he enlisted his wife, Nikki Fletcher, to take a cellphone video and he went through with it, dumping the water and ice over his head in his Heber City, Utah backyard.
"I didn't think I had a choice," he said, "so I made the best of it."
He followed that up with a $50 donation to the ALS Association, a small drop of the $115 million that organization reaped from the ice bucket phenomena.
He had no way at the time of knowing how glad he'd be he took part. Two years later his father, Tim Fletcher, was diagnosed with ALS, and now 18 months after that, the Fletcher family will be hitting the snow Saturday in Winter Park for another ALS fundraiser, Ski to Defeat ALS.
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"I'm glad I did it now with everything my dad is going through," Fletcher said of his icy 2014 bath.
The Fletchers are raising money this weekend for the skiing event, where the funds will again go to the ALS Association.
The money from 2014 has done much to push the research on ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that slowly takes the muscles away from those affected. About two thirds of the money raised went to research according to the organization, and that research has led to genetic discoveries related to the disease.
Bryan Fletcher said his father hasn't directly benefitted from any of the drugs that have debuted since 2014. His particular strain of ALS isn't the most common, limiting the options. And, the money raised this weekend won't go directly to help Tim Fletcher, either.
"Tim has said, 'it's too late for me, but if it helps people down the road, it's definitely worth it,'" said Michele Schiau, Tim Fletcher's girlfriend. "It's definitely worth it because ALS needs to be eradicated."
With Michele ever at his side, Tim traveled in February to South Korea to watch his sons Bryan and Taylor Fletcher compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The effects of the disease were already long-since clear. He had to resign from his job as a ski patroller at Howelsen Hill a year prior. He lost his ability to eat and talk months before and his hands were becoming more and more difficult to control as ALS worked its way from his head down. (A more common variant of the disease works from the extremities in, allowing for a longer but less active life.)
Life hasn't been any more smooth since returning from Korea. Fletcher came down with a nasty bout of the flu in the days after landing, and he's continued to grow weaker. He’s still managed to log a few days at Steamboat Ski Area, however. Bryan came to town to ski several weeks ago and they spent the morning on the mountain, and Michele and Tim went up just this week to catch some of the powder from the spring storm that assaulted town during the weekend.
Michele asked if he wanted to go again Wednesday, but ever aware of the conditions, he opted out.
"It's going to be all slush," he wrote to her.
"He was right," she said.
He will ski this weekend in Winter Park with Michele and Bryan as a part of the Ski to Defeat ALS fundraiser.
"He's getting out and having fun, and he has a nice smile on his face when he's making those turns," she said. "He's a pretty strong, amazing guy."
As the disease progress, there may not be any more days like Saturday. That's something Bryan said he's had to consider.
"We don't have many more days on the slopes this year, and I don't know if he’ll be able to ski next year," Bryan said, pausing, "if he makes it to next year."
So, they plan to do as they did in Korea, and as they've done since the deadly diagnosis came down 18 months ago, to make the most of the moments they have left. In this instance, they hope to raise some money, too, this time without having to dump a bucket of icy water on anyone's head.
Michele and Bryan have combined to raise nearly $6,000 so far, and they're hoping to build on that total in the next few days.