O.J. Brigance counts every day as a blessing, bravely embracing his trying circumstances as the former Ravens linebacker battles a cruel, undefeated disease.
The Ravens' senior adviser to player development was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS in 2007, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the cells in the brain and spinal cord. Often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, the disease causes muscle atrophy and difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing.
Despite his personal adversity, stricken by a disease with no known cure, Brigance keeps fighting.
Brigance and his charitable foundation were hosted Sunday at Stone's Cove KitBar in Owings Mills on Sunday. Ten percent of the restaurant's sales Sunday are being donated to the Brigance Brigade Foundation to benefit ALS research and awareness.
"I find my strength and resolve to press on in my relationship with Jesus Christ," Brigance told The Baltimore Sun on Sunday. "It gives me perspective to understand that my previous adversities have forged my character to stand firm during this challenge. Not only to stand firm but to see the opportunity to help and encourage others.
"It gives me great joy to know that my walk encourages others because it is confirmation to me that there is a purpose for my pain. I do believe that God will help me win this battle and I will be made whole. I am winning every day my feet touch the ground. We all need to appreciate the small victories in life, starting with the ability to open our eyes in the morning."
Brigance and his wife, Chanda, formed the Brigance Brigade Foundation after his diagnosis to raise awareness and funding for ALS research and to provide for families in need of equipment, resource guidance and support services.
"The Brigance Brigade has the distinct honor to be the first charity to be recognized by the Stone's Cove restaurant's philanthropy," Brigance said. "Sunday, they will recognize a worthy charity by donating a portion of today's restaurant sales to a particular cause. How appropriate that our event falls on NFL kickoff weekend. So, we have a great charity, great food and football.
"I guess we have our own football party going on today. The money being donated to the Brigance Brigade by Stone's Cove will go toward encouraging, equipping and empowering families who have been touched by ALS with help purchasing much-needed equipment and research initiatives. We have been blessed in our journey, so we want to bless others who are walking the same path."
The NFL and retired players recently reached a $765 million settlement to resolve concussion-related lawsuits. The compromise still needs final approval from a judge, but will distribute millions of dollars to the players with the most serious ailments with Brigance falling into that category.
"I am happy to see a settlement between the NFL and the retired players," Brigance said. "To play in the NFL takes great sacrifice on many different levels. The men who have given selflessly of themselves to the team should be given help to care for their residual injuries from playing the game.
"It is hard to understand unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. I am pleased that both sides agreed to a resolution to get help to the guys who need it most. It is the right thing to do."
Brigance is coming out with a book on Oct. 22 called "Strength of a Champion: Finding Faith and Fortitude Through Adversity." The book was co-authored by Brigance and FOX Sports' Peter Schrager with a foreward from retired Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
The Ravens got off to a rough start to this season as they seek to defend their Super Bowl title.
Nonetheless, Brigance remains upbeat about the Ravens' prospects going forward.
"The 2013 Baltimore Ravens are a very talented group," Brigance said. "We have good depth and leadership across the board. The guys are growing more comfortable day by day and understanding their capabilities individually and as a team.
"We have the right people in the right system with the right attitudes. We had a tough outing against Denver but we have the resiliency built into our DNA to learn from every setback and grow stronger because of it. I look forward to a great season."
For more information about Brigance's foundation, go to BriganceBrigade.org
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