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For many, the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge is a wake-up call to learn about the disease. For Dani Knight, the challenge is merely an opportunity to help out a friend.

Two and a half years ago, newlywed couple Mark and Jennifer Habicht received a shock — Mark had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

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"We had only been married two months when we found out he had ALS. He gave me a chance to run, but I said 'No, you've got 20 years of me nagging you that you have to suffer through,' " Jennifer said.

Over the two and half years, Mark has gone from playing football and lacrosse to being confined to a wheelchair. Because the muscles in his mouth have weakened, Jennifer helps interpret for Mark when he wishes to speak. Mark said the disease has caused him to lose about 3 percent of his muscles per month.

Despite all of the progress made with the program, Mark said raising understanding about the disease is more important to him than raising funds.

"It's really painful for him to go places and have people stare, because they have no idea," Jennifer said. "It's not so much donating money or getting splashed with ice. It's taking 10 minutes to read about ALS."

In late July, the ALS Association began the ice bucket challenge, a fundraising effort that asks people to dump a bucket of ice water on their head to raise awareness and/or donate funds to the organization. Due to the groundswell of support on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the participation of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Vin Diesel, the ALS Association has raised more than $41 million in donations between July 28 and Aug. 21, more than 20 times the amount raised during that period last year.

On Thursday, Knight and more than a dozen members of her gym, Dani K. Gym & Wellness, performed the ice bucket challenge in the parking lot. In a slight twist on the standard challenge, Knight raised money for Mark to purchase a communication device that will allow him to call friends and type emails through his eye movements.

"He's losing out on watching our daughters grow up and being able to talk to them. Even an email means the world to them," Jennifer said. "They don't always want to go through me. Even the guy talk that happens, you know, I don't want to hear that; it's for the guys."

The device the couple is currently looking at costs approximately $5,700. In a 24-hour period of fundraising, Knight was able to raise nearly $2,000 to support the purchase of the device.

Knight underwent two ice water dunks; the first was intended specifically for Mark, the second was a communal dunking to fulfill the challenge issued to her by friends. Following the event, Mark said he was overwhelmed with emotion while the group called out his name and drenched themselves in the freezing water.

Businesses throughout Carroll have taken part or planned to take part in the ice bucket challenge, including Starry Night Bakery & Coffeehouse in Westminster, sweetFrog in Westminster, Farmers & Merchants Bank in Hampstead, and Atlantic Blue Water Services and Treatment in Westminster.

Tyler Smith, digital media marketer with Atlantic Blue, said the business plans to do the challenge Friday, Aug. 22, inspired by Starry Night.

"It's really a great tool. I can say it brought awareness to me. I didn't 100 percent know what it was," Smith said. "I thought this was a really cool way to get information about this disease out quickly."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or at jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

Your Ice Bucket Challenge

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The Times nominates you for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! Send your photos and videos along with your name and hometown to wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com Re: IBC for publication in an online gallery and possible photo page in the Times. If someone else nominated you for the challenge, include their name, too.

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