BALTIMORE — O.J. Brigance enjoyed a successful football career, winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens and earning the respect of teammates and opponents alike. Today he is unable to throw, catch or even hold a football but the former Raven continues to inspire and motivate.
“I learned a life lesson through football early on,” Brigance said in a recent interview with the help of his wife, Chanda. “I learned that quitting is never an option.”
Those lessons are detailed in his new book, “Strength of a Champion,” co-written with Fox Sports correspondent Peter Schrager. The book chronicles Brigance’s NFL career, his life-changing diagnosis of ALS— Lou Gehrig’s disease— and his unrelenting fight against the disease.
Brigance won the Super Bowl as a player and captain with the Ravens in 2001, and again in 2013 as the team’s senior adviser of Player Development. In 2007, between these two career high points, Brigance was diagnosed with ALS and told there was a chance he wouldn’t live more than five years past diagnosis.
The progression of the disease has taken away the use of his arms and legs, and robbed him of the ability to speak. However, he is now six years post-diagnosis and making an incredible impact on the lives of those around him.
Although he is confined to a wheelchair and forced to communicate through an augmentative speaking device, Brigance still shows up to work every morning, has an unbelievable outlook on life, and serves as an inspiration to the entire Ravens organization.
“I have experienced times where I have been overcome by the weight of the diagnosis,” Brigance said. “But once I dried my tears and stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realized that God had given me the strength to handle this assignment.”
It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand populations annually. Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the ALS Association. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more. More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries. ALS can strike anyone.
“The biggest shocker was that ALS was a fatal disease, with a two- to five-year prognosis,” Brigance said.
In his book, Brigance discusses how he’s inspired by the players and Ravens staff that he’s worked with, including Ray Lewis (who wrote the foreword) and Coach John Harbaugh and his conviction that he will walk again, and how his faith has lifted him up through hard times.
His foundation, the Brigance Brigade, through which he and Chanda have raised over one million dollars for ALS research, helps others who are stricken, and will be stricken, with the disease
“Writing the book has been an incredible journey and I am so proud of what we have accomplished,” said Brigance, the Ravens senior advisor to player development. “I couldn’t be happier to share my personal story and try to encourage others to be fearless in the face of adversity. There will always be obstacles in your life, I hope what people take away from, ‘Strength of a Champion,’ is that those obstacles should never limit you, they should teach you something and motivate you to keep pushing forward.”
The book is now available online at www.Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.