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May 28

Former Rams player turned firefighter fights for hope amid ALS

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The question returns to Eric Stevens each morning in the hazy seconds after waking up.

“Is this really happening? Do I have ALS?”

The answer is always the same. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, hasn’t left. He hauls himself out of bed at his Costa Mesa apartment and takes the first halting steps of another day without a way to slow the disease that’s consuming his body.

Stevens used to make so many things look easy. He raced BMX bicycles and played hockey and wrestled at Palos Verdes Peninsula High. He surfed Haggerty’s break off Malaga Cove. He fly-fished. He captained the University of California-Berkeley football team, spent part of a season with the St. Louis , joined the Los Angeles Fire Department as a firefighter and, last year before the diagnosis upended everything, married his college sweetheart.

He is 30, and his time is running out. His balance is failing. Breathing is more difficult. His words are thick and labored. Muscles spasm nonstop. His hands cramp when he grabs an object. Simple tasks like closing the tailgate of his pickup truck or doing pushups challenge him.

“Every little thing you do is hard,” Stevens said. “I feel like there’s a 30-pound trenchcoat of water on me. Just heavy. It’s like I’m walking in quicksand.”

He downs more than 20 vitamins and supplements each morning. He drinks celery juice. He relaxes in a donated sauna. He tries to swim laps and walks the neighborhood and does Pilates three times each week. He lifts light weights and exercises with resistance bands. He pushes to raise awareness of ALS and fast-track experimental treatments. He fights to stay positive but can’t escape what his body says. The disease steals a little more each day.

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