BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Over the past couple of years, WIAT has continued to follow former Alabama football great Kevin Turner’s battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Tonight, WIAT’s own, and lifelong friend of Kevin’s, Mark Prater shares a new chapter of how others continue to help make our country aware of ALS, this time literally climbing a mountain for the cause.
That mountain is located 19,341 feet above sea level and covered in treacherous snow and ice. It’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s toughest climbs. Jon Johnnidis, a New York film producer and director, joined 7 others to make the 3 mile vertical climb for ALS awareness. Before the climb Johnnidis didn’t know Turner. That was until he interviewed the former NFL star a month before the climb. After that his climb went from a project to a mission.
“I never laughed so hard during an interview,” Johnnidis said. “He’s uplifting. Even as he struggles with his words, I had no trouble understanding each word he said, because he struggles so much he speaks very deliberately and each word is chosen very deliberately.”
Geared with camera equipment, Johnnidis chronicled the life-changing event.
“Not to sound overly grand, but it changed my life,” Johnnidis said.
Turner, once one of the world’s most supreme athletes, is now a man fighting to breath and talk everyday while his body continues to deteriorate. That was never far from the minds of each hiker.
“Needless to say, when we got to our worst, and I think each one of has our moments of pure exhaustion, then we would remind each other of why we’re here, remind each other that Kevin climbs this mountain 10 times every day,” Johnnidis said. “He climbs it before we’re out of the bed in the morning. So, we can make it to the top. We will make it to the top.”
Turner’s daily mission is to reach the top of the mountain, to make others aware of the devastating disease known as ALS. His battles inspired eight people from the United States to climb for Turner and raise money for research.
The hike and entire mission raised tens of thousands of dollars for research. A full documentary on the climb from Johnnidis will be released later this fall.
Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News