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Still beating the odds on ALS

Thirty years after diagnosis, Jeff Young is an example of how to live


by: VERN UYETAKE - A debilitating disease has not been a barrier for Jeff Young to live a meaningful life.Jeff Young was diagnosed with ALS on Halloween Day 30 years ago.

He was told that his muscles would turn to chalk and that he would be afflicted with a raft of other physical woes, including trouble with breathing and speaking. He was also told his life expectancy would be two to five years.

“I fooled them,” Young said. “I’m still here.”

It is true that the 51-year-old Lake Oswego man is a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. It is also true that he is living life in full, not just existing. Young’s spirit could not be trapped by his body. His impact on the community was tremendously reflected on Sept. 29, at the Portland Metro Walk to Defeat ALS, when the team known as Jeff’s Warriors made a huge showing, with 175 teammates signing up and raising more than $8,500, with more continuing to come in.

Everyone was surprised. Except Young.

“I knew it would be a success,” Young said. “I’ve received so much support from the community. I saw people there that I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

The full name of ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the great New York Yankees first baseman who died from ALS in 1941. ALS is one of the most debilitating diseases, and its cure has been elusive. Young’s diagnosis was particularly devastating news for the college football player who was approaching the height of his physical powers.

Yet the odds of curing ALS have to be improved because of people like Young.

“It’s the way he has been with everything,” said LaDonna Young, his mother. “It’s not going to get him down.”

The highest-profile example of Jeff Young’s influence on young people in Lake Oswego is his role as “coach” on the Lake Oswego High School Lakers football team, which ranks among the elite in the state. Young is a former Laker himself, playing all four years in high school from 1975 to 1979 before going on to play at Southern Oregon University for three years. Every season Young is photographed in the Lakers team photo, most proudly in 2011 when they won the state championship. Young knows football, but most of all he knows the hearts and minds of young people.

“My role with the football team has grown over the years,” Young said. “I most of all play an inspirational and motivational role.”

Young writes motivational letters for the players, and in the off season he puts together a leadership council of seniors-to-be.

It is one-on-one, though, where Young does the most good.

“Jeff keeps life in perspective for the kids,” said Gigi Morton. “He helps kids when they’re down and picks them up.”

by:  VERN UYETAKE - Gigi Morton has taken Jeff Young's contribution to the community to a new level by starting Jeff's Warriors. About 175 of them walked to raise money for ALS in September.

Morton is the mother of Max Morton, a junior on the LOHS team, and it was only a few months ago that she started to play a major role in Young’s life. She knew about Young, “because Max is always talking about him,” but she had never met him until the Laker Quarterback Club had a preseason barbecue in August. Almost as soon as she had met Young, a thought occurred to her.

“I wondered if he had ever been in the ALS walk in Portland,” Morton said.

Surprisingly, Young had not, and Morton was immediately inspired to start Jeff’s Warriors, a team that would raise money to fight ALS. Soon afterward, however, Morton began having second thoughts.

“I had never done anything like this,” she said. “It was a little overwhelming. We were starting so late I set our fundraising goal at only $2,000. You never know what to expect from high school kids.”

Bravely, Morton went into the Lakers locker room and started signing up a roster of players.

“I thought we would get the football players, a few other students and all of the coaches,” Morton said. “But the team started growing and growing. Then I started worrying about how we would get everyone down there, but then we were able to get four school buses. That was exciting.”

There was one more challenge. At the ALS walk, held at the World Trade Center in Portland, it turned out to be the wettest weekend of the year, and all of Jeff’s Warriors got good and soaked.

“I thought, ‘We’ll lose a lot of people who are fair weather friends,’” Morton said.

But Morton’s final worry was laid to rest.

by: SUBMITTED - Jeff Young proudly sits in front of Jeff's Warriors at the Portland Metro Walk to Defeat ALS on Sept. 29. The group raised more than $8,500, and they aren't done yet.

“We had a blast,” Young said. “People told me the rain made it more fun.”

The big success of the ALS walk made Young’s life fuller than ever, and he has just one more goal.

“I want more and more people to know more about ALS,” Young said. “I want to get more research dollars.”

Cliff Newell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.