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Monday, Dec 11, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Alabamians unite: Kerry and Gary challenge using rivalry to help defeat ALS

<p>Gary Godfrey, 60-years-old, was on the Auburn basketball team during the 1986 run to the Elite Eight and the 1985 Sweet 16 appearance.</p>

Gary Godfrey, 60-years-old, was on the Auburn basketball team during the 1986 run to the Elite Eight and the 1985 Sweet 16 appearance.

Iron Bowl smack talk immediately ensued when two former athletes in the state of Alabama and current ALS patients, Gary Godfrey and Kerry Goode, first crossed paths in the Atlanta Emory ALS Clinic in 2019. 

1986 Auburn University graduate, Godfrey was a walk-on basketball player at Auburn under head coach Sonny Smith, and he played alongside Charles Barkley, who is now a longtime friend of his. On the other hand, Goode graduated from the University of Alabama in 1987 and was a running back there before getting drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1988.

Leading up to the 88th annual Iron Bowl four years later, the smack talk hasn't stopped, but the two have united against a common rival: ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which they both live with. They are gearing up to face off in the second annual Kerry and Gary Challenge, which is a fundraiser to see who can raise the most money for ALS – Godfrey and Auburn fans versus Goode and Alabama fans.

"The winning fan base, whether it's Auburn or Alabama, gets bragging rights and knowing that they, collectively, are helping ALS families right here in Alabama," Godfrey said. "Kerry and I are both very competitive and don't like to lose... After Auburn won last year, you can bet Kerry heard about it from me. Kerry will be gunning for me this year."

It is a friendly competition built around lighthearted joshing, but the matter at hand is as serious as it gets. 

ALS takes a life approximately every 90 minutes, and the disease progresses at a variable but devastating rate. Just 18 months after Godfrey was diagnosed in 2019, he lost the ability to eat, speak and breathe without assistance. He now uses assistive technology to type and play his words, and the 60-year-old has required breath support to keep him alive since age 57.

The average cost for proper medical care for those living with ALS is $250,000 per year, while renovating a home to accommodate a wheelchair can cost up to $20,000. Nearly 30,000 people live with ALS, but many don't receive a diagnosis before passing away. 

Meanwhile, the cause of ALS is unknown. There are no known treatments or cure, thus, Godfrey emphasized the need for help raising awareness for ALS as well as fundraising.

"For those who are unable to give to the Kerry and Gary challenge this year, they can post on their social media hashtag 'I'm with Gary' or 'I'm with Kerry,'" Godfrey said. "I am very grateful for everyone who gives to the Kerry and Gary challenge because you are helping ALS families in Alabama who don't have the money to care for loved ones. It's pretty special to have Auburn and Alabama fans give to something bigger than the rivalry."

Kerry Goode, 58-years-old, played in the NFL for 11 seasons before his ALS diagnosis in 2010.

Between the Tide and Tiger fans, they raised around $80,000 dollars last year, but they have some profound Alabama natives joining the cause this year to help them reach their goal of $250,000. 

Auburn basketball head coach, Bruce Pearl, and Godfrey's former basketball teammate, Charles Barkley, are joining Godfrey on the Tigers' side, and Goode's former Alabama football teammate, Cornelius Bennett, and Alabama football head coach Nick Saban are joining Goode on the Tide's side. Meanwhile, Alabama governor Kay Ivey is joining both sides in uniting the state against ALS.

The governor released a statement in support of the challenge ahead of a public press conference on Thursday, Nov. 16 in the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery to discuss the details and events for the challenge. 

“I am proud to join the Kerry and Gary Challenge to defeat ALS, an incredible initiative that utilizes the spirit of the Iron Bowl to support those who are battling this devastating disease,” Ivey said. “As Alabamians are gearing up for the fierce football rivalry that has defined our state for generations, I encourage all to join this challenge. Many families across our state are impacted by ALS, and it is certainly a cause worth fighting for.”

At the conference, both sides will discuss the details of the challenge, including events both parties are holding to boost fundraising. 

Along with the opportunity to donate at the Kerry and Gary Challenge website, Goode, Pearl and more community figures will join Gary and his wife, Carol, for a walkthrough event in downtown Auburn the day before the Iron Bowl, next Friday, Nov. 24, starting at 2 p.m. CST.

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The afternoon of fun competition starts at Staks Pancake Kitchen for a pancake stacking challenge before going across the street to Hamilton's On Magnolia for a drink-making face-off, then finishing with a gift-wrapping challenge at Wrapsody.

Albeit a divisive game among Alabama residents on Iron Bowl Saturday, the Kerry and Gary Challenge gives Alabamians a reason to unite for Thanksgiving week and beyond, as the challenge runs through the Tuesday after the Iron Bowl, termed as Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28.

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