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ALS Advocate And Former Penn State LB Tim Shaw Writes Emotional Letter To Younger Self

Former Penn State linebacker Tim Shaw published a heartfelt letter to himself as a senior with the Nittany Lions via The Players’ Tribune Tuesday.

In the letter, he informs his younger self about everything he is about to go through — from being drafted to the struggles of living with ALS, which he was diagnosed with in April 2014, less than one year after his last appearance in an NFL preseason game. The neurodegenerative disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, cut his pro football career short only six years after he was drafted out of Penn State in 2007.

“There’s a lot I could tell you about this disease and about how to handle it, Tim, but the most important thing I can tell you is that even though this is a disease that will affect you physically,” he wrote. “It will slowly rob you of your voluntary muscle functions — that doesn’t mean it will be a solely physical battle. It will also be a psychological battle.”

In the letter, Shaw outlines the humble beginnings to his pro career, including getting cut from three different training camps, before finding a home with the Tennessee Titans.

His performance eventually slipped as early symptoms of ALS began to set in, and he recalled finding out his diagnosis just months after retiring from the NFL.

“And I’m telling you…it’s been almost five years since that day, and to this moment, I can still hear the doctor’s words echoing in my head,” Shaw wrote. “I can hear his voice, calm and deliberate, as he says it. ‘Tim, I believe you have ALS.’”

The news carried extra weight to Shaw, who lost his sister-in-law’s mother to the disease a few months before his diagnosis. He shared stories of the initial months after his diagnosis and beginning to really feel ALS’ symptoms.

Although ALS began to take its toll on Shaw’s body, the former linebacker made sure to emphasize keeping a positive attitude, the one thing he could control.

Shaw’s last message to his younger self was to focus on accepting his plight and enjoying everything that he has instead of focusing on what he doesn’t.

“This disease…it’s a process,” he wrote. “You can drown yourself in grief, mourning the loss of your ability to play guitar, or to play golf, or to even lift your fork to your mouth. But every second spent grieving those losses will be time stolen from what you still do have.”

While his letter is addressed to his younger self, it’s really written for everyone. In our busy lives, it’s easy to forget what truly matters and to take so many basic things for granted. Thankfully, Shaw wrote it as reminder to himself and to all of us.

“I am only 34 years old, but it’s difficult for me to speak. It’s also a blessing because it makes every word I say more purposeful,” Shaw said.

The Players’ Tribune also tweeted this video of Shaw reading an abridged version of the letter, which is sure to make you tear up.

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About the Author

Anthony Fiset

Anthony is a junior majoring in Economics. He, like many others, is from right outside of Philly, and by right outside of Philly, he means Pittsburgh. His only source of pride is being a lifetime Costco Executive Member. You can call him, beep him if you wanna reach him at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @antnyfst.


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