Cougar fan since birth gets thrill of a lifetime when Steve Gleason suddenly appears in the theater at end of his movie

IN MY 18 YEARS on Earth, which is to say my 18 years on Planet Coug, I have played catch with Ryan Leaf, chatted up Klay Thompson and been too nervous to ask Drew Bledsoe for an autograph even while sitting next to him at a game.

I’ve had my picture taken with Deone Bucannan, Mkristo Bruce, Husain Abdullah and Mike Levenseller. Alex Brink signed my favorite ball cap, Jack Thompson shook my hand and Jeff Tuel once called me buddy.

When I was in second grade, my dad called on his way home from a dinner. He told me our door bell was going to ring in about three minutes and that I would definitely want to be the one to answer.

My jaw only recently came off the floor from meeting Tony Bennett on our front porch that evening.

But nothing in my incredible Cougar life will ever match the surprise that greeted me last night at Lincoln Square Cinemas in Bellevue.

My family went to see the documentary about Steve Gleason’s battle with ALS and his determination to build a relationship with his newborn son Rivers despite the physical impediments.

The film, titled “Gleason,” is extraordinary. Any superlative you can summon should be attached to it. I think it is the most moving, painfully real and honest story I have ever had the good fortune to watch or read. Steve and his wife Michel are even more remarkable than you already know. Your Cougar pride will swell.

But here’s where all my years of crimson thrills and chills pale compared to what happened as the final credits rolled off the screen.

A voice came over the PA and said the Q&A would begin in a moment. Perhaps a discussion about ALS, my dad speculated.

The lights then come up and the woman on the mic says, “ladies and gentleman … Steve Gleason.”

You talk about stunned silence. Two words ran through my mind: Holy $%#@!

I don’t think anyone in the theater had any idea Steve would be here. We certainly didn’t. The big guy clad in the No. 37 Saints jersey didn’t. Heck, we were originally going to see the movie at another theater but it was sold out. That’s the only reason why we were at Lincoln Square.

This is luck at its absolute finest.

Steve then motors out in his wheelchair that is equipped with a computer that audibly talks for him — in his own voice — after he inputs keystrokes via eye contact.

The moment was almost surreal. We all stood and applauded. My mom was in tears. My heart was pounding.

Here we were standing 15 feet from Steve Gleason. This is THE Steve Gleason right before my eyes.

The exhilaration can’t be explained. I have always admired Steve, but to see him in real life — right after watching his incredible journey on film — was nothing less than unforgettable.

This is not only a Spokane, WSU and New Orleans legend we’re talking about, but a true American legend — really, a gift for all humanity.

Steve, along with the two guys who made the film, proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes answering questions.

Steve noted that his foundation, Team Gleason, has raised $20 million to buy the costly, high-tech equipment that people suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease so desperately need to communicate and function.  A sample of what else Steve had to say can be found at CF.C’s Twitter account @COUGFANcom.

The one thing that struck me is that Steve's witty sense of humor is going strong. Amazing is the only word to describe this man.

In about five minutes I will be heading out to the last formal practice of the summer for my high school basketball team. I will do so with a renewed sense of appreciation for the opportunity. Steve’s energy, attitude and courage will be with me for every line and every drill. No day or moment can be wasted.

That’s the Steve Gleason way.

NO WHITE FLAGS!

Of note: Steve is planning to do a Q&A tonight (Saturday the 30th) following the 7 p.m. showing of "Gleason" at the Guild 45th theater in Seattle.

Related story: 'Gleason' earns rave reviews at Sundance

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