Pete Frates’ life changed on March 13, 2012, when he was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative condition that is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Instead of wallowing, the former captain of Boston College’s baseball team, now 30, immediately dedicated his life to making a difference.
Frates’ rousing success in the face of tremendous obstacles makes him a clear choice as PRWeek’s 2015 Communicator of the Year.
A mere six hours after receiving the devastating news, he shared over a family dinner what would become his new goal, according to Forbes.com: "Bring the disease to the attention of philanthropists such as Bill Gates" and "lead a movement to change the world."
Frates has lost most motor functions and the ability to speak. However, his indomitable will and ability to spread a message has only sharpened in the last three years.
Last summer, he used his Boston College and sporting connections to create the Ice Bucket Challenge. Few would argue it was last year’s biggest viral success, with millions the world over – including the aforementioned Gates – dumping buckets of ice over their heads in support of the cause. And the nature of the movement, in which you had to challenge others to douse themselves, lent itself to millions of YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and tweets.
Since July 29, 2014, the ALS Association had received $115 million in donations, according to the organization’s website. Myriad estimates have reported those numbers represent a 3,500% increase in donations year on year. Frates put the disease on the map like nobody before him.
Historic movements are often started by gifted communicators, even if they might not view themselves as such. A communications major at Boston College, Frates has always been a natural storyteller.
"I knew that as a group-benefits salesman I wasn’t using my gifts," he has said. "I wasn’t living up to my full potential. As soon as I got the [diagnosis], it clicked. This is what I’ve been put here to do."
It started with numerous speeches and appearances on programs such as The Charlie Rose Show. As his ability to speak became compromised, he took to blogs on sites such as The Huffington Post to share his story.
And the social media success that epitomizes the Ice Bucket Challenge is an apt testament to the brave and inspiring Beverly, Massachusetts, native.
Great communicators get others to not only act, but to also take the message and continue spreading it. While Frates can no longer speak, his words and actions still resonate with numerous people around the globe, who are more inspired than ever to fight ALS.
"Pete is proof positive of what communications can facilitate," said one judge. "His passion and bravery is something that should inspire us all."