When ALS patient and Ride for Life founder Christopher Pendergast, of Miller Place, first found out about the ice bucket challenge, the phenomenon that has swept social media and raised millions to fight the disease, he not only wanted to get involved — he wanted to take it to new heights.
The result: More than 500 people came together at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Tuesday night to participate in a group challenge. Participants lined up together to spell out the words “ICE ALS,” and each took the challenge in succession, creating a wave of falling water if viewed from above.
“We wanted to do something new, something different,” said Ray Manzoni, a board member of Ride for Life, which raises funds and awareness for ALS research and patients suffering from the disease. “Chris had this creative spark, and that spark just sort of evolved into what we have today.”
At the end of the challenge, a group of participants lied down on the floor, creating an underscore under the words. Manzoni said the gesture was meant to emphasize fatality since the disease currently has no cure.
“In addition to raising awareness, we wanted to create an understanding of what the disease is,” said Christine Pendergast, Ride for Life co-founder along with her husband, Christopher.
The Mount Sinai Fire Department was on location to help fill up hundreds of buckets with water and ice for participants. The bright orange buckets, bearing the words “Let’s DO This” in bold white letters, were provided by Home Depot in Coram.
Among those participating were the Comsewogue High School varsity and junior varsity women’s field hockey teams, who traded an evening of practice to help volunteer for the event.
“I figured we would come down here and help out,” Comsewogue varsity head coach Katy Dornicik said. “They do so much, we figured we would give back to them, too.”
In Ride for Life’s annual Ride Event, ALS patients travel along roadways from Montauk to Washington D.C., in their wheelchairs. The event has helped raised more than $7 million for the cause since its inaugural ride in 1998.
Steven Depascale, 57, an ALS patient who lives in Port Jefferson Station, said he’s been overwhelmed by how much attention the ice bucket challenge has brought to the fight for a cure for ALS.
"It's been mind-boggling the last couple of weeks," Depascale said. "Before this, a lot of people didn't know what ALS was. But they ... sure know what it is now."