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focus on something I can’t control, I’d rather focus on what I can.” Friends and family have rallied to


Harden’s aid, raising funds for medical expenses, many of which are not covered by insurance.


Harden, the 1991 national defenseman of the year for NCAA champion North Carolina, has won state high school championships as a coach in Connecticut, Georgia and Ohio. Also a volunteer first responder, he was diagnosed with ALS last August.


Harden also took over as the head coach of the girls’ team, in addition to his regular work responsibilities and volunteering as a first responder. Everything changed, however, last August. Harden, who opted against surgery for a knee ailment several years ago, began walking with a limp. A self- described “lug head” — he also played hockey and football at New Caanan and Deerfield Academy — shrugged it off. But eventually, Harden couldn’t lift his big toe on his left foot. That’s when ALS cropped up as a possibility. ALS, commonly known to as Lou


Gehrig’s disease, causes progressive muscle weakness that eventually robs patients of the ability to walk, talk, swallow and ultimately breathe, all while leaving their minds intact. There is no known cure or effective treatment. The average lifespan from diagnosis is two to five years. “It was very surreal,” Harden said of the diagnosis, which came after several months of eliminating alternative causes. “I don’t feel ill, but at this point, I’m at peace with it. I didn’t do anything to cause this disease. Rather than


USlaxmagazine.com


“I saw [former NFL player and ALS patient] Steve Gleason give an amazing talk, at the Sundance Film Festival in January,” said Shea Harden, Graham’s sister and CEO of G-Force — the initiative that has launched in the short time since his diagnosis. “I picked up the phone and called the people involved with that, and the first thing they told me was to start fundraising for your brother. Forget about anything else for now. Focus on that.” Since its launch, G-Force has raised more than $200,000 for Harden’s care, which could become acute at a moment’s notice despite his current lack of significant symptoms. (When describing the cane he carried at the dinner, he wryly smiled and commented that he didn’t really need it; it just got him a little sympathetic attention from the ladies in the room). Once the funds raised have reached a level that is sufficient for Harden’s care, G-Force hopes to shift gears into something that brings relief to others among the thousands of ALS sufferers in the United States and beyond. “Whatever he wants to do, that’s the direction we’ll go,” Shea Harden said. For now, Graham Harden’s main goal is to put a spotlight on the disease that has and will continue to change his life for however long he has left, and show the people around him — his family, his friends, the kids on his team, and the public at large — how to persevere in the face of such daunting news. “As a parent, I know that we try to protect our kids from everything and help them succeed at everything, but that’s just not reality, unfortunately,” he said. “One of the things I hope I can show is how to deal with adversity. You may have the path that you want to go down in front of you, but sometimes that’s not how it’s going to work out. The path I was on, the bridge blew up. Nothing I can do about it. But what I can do is make whatever choices I can to keep going down a good path. “Odds are, I’m not going to beat ALS. That doesn’t mean I can’t try. If I show these kids that I can do that off the field, they sure as heck can do it on the field.” Those who made their way to Connecticut on that November night were happy to be there to honor Harden’s achievements as a lacrosse player. They shared in a career-capping moment for a friend and mentor who deserved the honor.


Now they share in the commitment to help that friend as he enters the fight of his life. USL


April 2017 US LACROSSE MAGAZINE 41


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