Steven Gallagher and his team of superheroes are suiting up next month for the Walk to End ALS

Steven Gallagher knows what he’ll be doing on June 21 this year – but the big question is whether he’ll be doing it as Superman, Batman, the Hulk or another superhero.

Marvel or DC Comics? Gallagher doesn’t discriminate – he just knows that superheroes are a powerful and inspiring embodiment of what he’s facing right now.

“It’s a way to acknowledge the super support my family and I have received,” he says, “and to encourage everyone – including myself – to channel their inner superhero powers to fight ALS.”

Gallagher found out last summer on his 10th wedding anniversary that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Since then, the 47-year-old has pushed past the dark thoughts that so often accompany the diagnosis. Now, he says, he’s focused not on the three letters ALS but instead on a four-letter word: hope. And that’s why he and his friends will be donning their superhero attire and participating in the virtual Walk to End ALS on June 21.

Typically, the Walk to End ALS takes place in 90 communities across Canada at different times throughout the year, but to support physical distancing and keep one another safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the event is going fully virtual on a single day.

But that isn’t changing Gallagher’s level of enthusiasm. He says that instead of their original plan to show up at the event in superhero attire, he and his team will use social media to share photos of one another as their superhero alter egos. He knows the Walk is all about community, and that can be found just as easily online as it can on the ground.

Gallagher came up with the superhero idea two years ago, before his ALS diagnosis, as part of a cycling fundraiser to support the cancer centre at the hospital where he works. He challenged his colleagues to help him meet his fundraising goal, promising them he’d dress up as Batman if he got there, to add an extra boost of awareness. He was shocked by how effectively it worked.

The superhero strikes again

After his ALS diagnosis, Gallagher channeled his inner superhero again, wearing a Superman T-shirt to his first treatment session at the hospital and sharing the photo on social media. Since then, he’s amassed quite a collection of superhero gear: his family friends have gifted him Hulk, Captain America and Shazam t-shirts, a blanket, action figures, and more.

“It definitely gets people’s attention, which is my goal with the Walk,” he says. “I want to help raise as much awareness as I can to shine a light on the incredible work of ALS Canada.”

Gallagher says that his first meeting with Melissa Van Tuyl, his ALS Canada Regional Manager, was the turning point that helped him to shift from darkness to hope. ALS can progress quickly, often affecting people’s mobility and communication ability within months of diagnosis. While Gallagher says initially he would have been happy to be guaranteed three quality years of life upon being diagnosed with ALS, he now takes inspiration from people who have lived 10, 15 and 20 years past their diagnosis.

“I wasn’t aware that people were living that long and living well. It gives me great hope and something to focus on.”

At the same time, he’s taking the time to cherish even more the relationships he holds dear, including his wife, Tiffany, and six-year-old daughter, Olivia. He shares that his mother, Gloria, who died of a brain aneurysm when he was 14, had no idea that it was coming. “I’m going to seize every day and focus on living in the moment,” he says. “I may have something that could limit my time in life, but I will be savoring every moment with my family.”

“I want to travel and live a long life – and I believe that I will. But I also have a difficult illness that I’m going to fight,” he says. “My story isn’t having ALS. My story is hope.”

The question now is which superhero version of Gallagher is going to show up on June 21.


Posted in: Stories, Walk To End ALS