Steve Gleason: The Unbreakable Saint

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October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Joe Unitas son of former NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas greets former New Orleans Saints defensive back Steve Gleason prior to kickoff of a game against the San Diego Chargers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Joe Unitas son of former NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas greets former New Orleans Saints defensive back Steve Gleason prior to kickoff of a game against the San Diego Chargers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

Continuing Forward, Until…

Gleason was a contributor to the Saints on special teams, helping to lift them to new heights as the team reached their first NFC championship game that year in 2006. During the 2008 offseason, he required micro fracture surgery and made the decision to retire from the game of football.

“I think I could play a few more years but I would rather walk away with my health intact than the opposite,” Gleason had said. Family and his health proved to be more important than football, a sentiment that would prove to be a code of honor for him later in life.

After all, he had a full plate as it was. He was to be married two months later to New Orleans native Michelle Varisco.

On May 16th, Steve and Michelle were wedded in front of friends, family and God. Their honeymoon would last six months, as the two backpacked around the world on a globetrotting adventure before returning home to start their lives together. The Gleason’s had decided to keep their home in New Orleans and settle down there. From there, Steve studied to get his Masters in business administration from Tulane.

Life was perfect.

In the fall of 2010, Steve began to experience uncontrollable twitching in his muscles.

When Gleason visited a doctor, he was first told of his grim fate: ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, is a disorder that causes the death of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles. The disease has no cure, and is one of earths most debilitating illnesses. Over time, ALS robs you of your ability to walk, move your arms, and even speak. It does not effect your cognitive functions (Though it has been known to cause dementia in some patients) however, leaving one trapped in their own bodies. The disease typically begins its onslaught on the human body once patients are in their 50’s.

Gleason was 34 years old at the time of his diagnosis.

For the first time, Gleason had a limitation that he could not beat, no matter how hard he tried. His size, build, and background had all proven to be roadblocks on his way to success, and he fought through each one. This time, he was helpless. He felt anger, fear, and a gambit of other emotions. He tried other doctors, but with no such luck of finding a way out of this future.

Finally, he had to fold on the hand he was dealt.

He let his support system around him help him up. Drew Brees, his former teammate, heard the news on his way to Gleason’s home state of Washington to face the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. He vowed to help Steve get through this as best he could. The Saints, as well as the people of New Orleans, did not forget what Gleason had done for them. How could they?

They have since showered Gleason with love and praise, helping to build his foundation and start the No White Flags movement. In 2011, Gleason was led onto the field to lead the pregame Who Dat chant before a matchup with the Houston Texans. Step for step with him was Brees, and his old friend and teammate Will Smith.

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