NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tim Shaw knew, sooner or later, he had to go public that he has ALS.
As the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon to raise awareness and money to fight the disease and find a cure swept the country, the former Titans linebacker and special teams captain knew the time had come. Shaw had been living with ALS since April, and on Wednesday shed light on his decision.
"It was very difficult to go public," Shaw said. "But it was made very clear to me that the time was right. I had waited for months, and needed to process it on my own and figure out what my message was going to be. Because if I had just come out right away, I wouldn’t have known much about it. I wouldn’t have known what I am really going to stand for against this in my life."
Following training camp practice on Wednesday, every Titans players and the coaching staff accepted that Ice Bucket Challenge, collectively dumping ice water over their heads as Shaw smiled while watching. He was then greeted with hugs and words of encouragement by many of his former teammates.
"I am overwhelmed just by the support," said Shaw, 30, a seven-year NFL veteran who played for the Titans from 2010-12. "It has been unbelievable. I have always loved attention, but not this kind of attention. I knew it was something that I needed to do. I knew it was something that would be beneficial, not for me, but for the cause.
"So, that’s why I did it. It has been amazing support, an amazing response. The human race is so powerful in what we can do when we pull ourselves together and put our minds to something. It’s really amazing."
Commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. There is no cure for the debilitating disease that often leads to paralysis and/or death.
According to the ALS Association website, it has received $31.5 million in donations as of Wednesday as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge. That compares to $1.9 million raised during the same time period last year. Donations have come from existing donors and 637,527 new donors.
"It’s an important cause," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It’s a terrible disease. I have a lot of respect for Tim. It’s horrible that he has to go through this. But anything we can do to raise awareness for it, to help get a cure, that’s important."
Shaw said he started feeling symptoms of the disease in late 2012 and early 2013. He was released by the Titans during training camp last year when the team made its final roster cut to 53 players. A 2007 fifth-round draft pick of the Panthers, he also played for the Jaguars (2008) and Bears (2009), before playing 48 games in three seasons with the Titans.
"It showed itself in my muscles," Shaw said of early ALS symptoms. "You could see my legs twitching, my muscles twitching. And it showed itself in weakness in my muscles, and it showed itself in loss of some athletic ability that I have always had. Those were the early signs."
The human race is so powerful in what we can do when we pull ourselves together and put our minds to something.
Following the end of the 2012 season and leading to training camp in 2013, Shaw worked with Titans staff and doctors trying to find a cause for his ailments.
"While I was playing here, that whole 2013 offseason, the Titans’ staff were analyzing me for different things and trying to figure out what sports injury I was suffering from and to just no avail," Shaw said. "I don’t blame anyone. It’s just something that you don’t think about. There were tests done, and there were doctors seen. So, it just never crossed anyone’s mind to go that direction."
Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan was Shaw’s teammate all three seasons he played for the Titans. He said today it was difficult to see Shaw and what he was going through, but also expressed admiration for how Shaw is handling the disease.
"I have been praying for him ever since I found out," Morgan said. "Tim is such a good guy, so you hate to see somebody who’s a good guy with a good heart going through something that harsh. It really hurts to see him, but his resolve has been very impressive.
"He is remaining positive and making the most out of his opportunity and his platforms that he has. We have to keep encouraging him, keep him in your prayers, and hopefully a miracle will happen and he will get healed."
Shaw said that he does not blame playing football and its physical nature as a factor in having ALS.
"I love the game of football," Shaw said. "From the time I first played it as a 12-year-old, this game was for me. No doubt about it in my mind, not a single regret. The game of football has given me so much. It’s brought me so many different places and so many avenues and opportunities, I wouldn’t take it back."
But Shaw said that the game of football at all levels needs to improve its approach when it comes to prevention, diagnosis and care for all kind of injuries, including those to the brain.
"I do think that we need to get smarter as we continue with this game," Shaw said. "I think we do need to learn more about what it is doing to our bodies and heads and things like that. I don’t blame the game. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know. People get this disease who never play football."
Shaw said that he is currently taking an approved drug to slow symptoms of the disease. He also meets with physicians every three months, but vows to continue to living life as he always has.
"It’s the hardest thing I ever had to hear," Shaw said of learning he had ALS just a month after turning 30. "So, every thought runs through your mind. But as a man, you have a choice. What are you going to do? Are you going to stand up and fight for your life? Or are you going to accept what someone else tells you is reality and just fade away?
"And so, as staggering as that news was and as shocking as it is to hear and to say, I made that choice to stand up and live life to the fullest like I believe I always have."