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Sunday, September 18, 2011


There is a repulsive trend in society that we need to stomp out like a dandelion before it spreads. Psychologists call it the "Wow, look what I did!" syndrome. Then, there are others who humbly support the world at large, like Adnan.

Adnan Gill: A hero of perseverance

Last year, I was volunteering at a charity walk to stamp out hunger and invited as many people as I could. We raised more money that day than ever before; money that would eventually feed families who are struggling in these hard economic times. That’s the day when something special happened. Adnan Gill showed up with his wife and two kids.

Some of you are reading this and saying. "yeah, so what and who is Adnan Gill?" Well, if you did, you took my bait because each time Adnan appears at a public event, he’s the second coming of Superman with a pressed cape straight from the Perseverance Hall of Fame. Now, you’re probably wondering why I purchased Adnan a pedestal and why I’m saying "Wow, look what Adnan did!"

Here’s why.

Adnan suffers from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. You know ALS, don’t you? It’s a disease that Jerry Lewis spent his Labor Days raising money to fund research to figure out a way to stop it. It’s a disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is best known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It took down the “Iron Horse” at the tender age of 37.

Eleven years ago, Adnan was living in Cincinnati when the first symptom struck. He was pushing a grocery cart when suffered a cramp so severe that he had to have his wife pull his arm straight.

At any given time, 30,000 Americans are living with ALS. Adnan wondered what were the odds that he'd be one of the 30,000 stricken with the disease.

Every American kid knows that the odds of living with ALS are next to none. We knew it from the first time we heard Gary Cooper re-enact Gehrig’s famous speech with a stirring, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” Those words always had a special meaning, but once I met Adnan, those words were puzzling.

How could anyone confined to a wheelchair and hooked to a breathing machine twenty-four hours a day consider himself lucky? Yet, all you have to do is spend an hour or two with him and you see it with your own eyes.

Visit with him at home and you are treated with the highest Pakistani hospitality, insightful political commentary and the warmth of brotherhood. Sit with him for a bit and you see he’s a faithful husband and dutiful father. His kids are respectful, yet speak their mind. They take his guidance much in the same way followers climb the mountain to speak to the Dalai Lama. And his wife Saima is right out of Good Housekeeping magazine. Without the hissing of his breathing machine, you would be hard pressed to see if his family was affected at all. His strength and fortitude have made family life akin to what you might see on a 50’s sitcom. It's a true testament to Adnan’s signature conviction that things will be as normal as possible.

The charity for which I am lucky enough to serve as a board member, the ALO Cultural Foundation, decided to lend a hand to Adnan with the Forever Wish program. Forever Wish ensures that folks like him have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. The passionate souls who were denied the chance to soar are given the resources they need to achieve their goals in life. This is our way of supporting Arts and Literature Programs for the physically challenged and underserved communities. Works that are vital to empowering the ability of those that refuse to be “disabled” and promote cross cultural understanding between people.

In our first e-Conversation years ago, he explained that he wanted to leave his story to his children…a legacy of sorts. A memoir that chronicles his life. He wanted to tell his son and daughter about his life and his philosophy for generations to come. At the foundation, we are lucky to have a skilled board of directors. One of my board mates is a modern day anthropologist, Ryan Murdock. Although he refuses to be called a journalist, he’s pretty handy with the pen, er, keyboard. When we took Adnan’s Forever Wish to the board, Ryan was the first person to raise his hand to give a little mentoring to Adnan to get his book going. Ryan’s the editor of this book and I have to tell you, it’s a real page turner. I glanced over Adnan's latest chapters and I was mesmerized by his thoughts and perspective. Here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 8:

“I live with one of the most debilitating illnesses ever known to the mankind. Someone described it as, ‘living in a dead body’. One's mind not only stays sharp; rather it goes into the overdrive. We hear all, see all, and yes feel all. We feel every iota of pain. The kind of pain an ordinary person can and does alleviate by simply switching the sides during pleasant dreams, or by shifting the weight off one foot to the other; well you get the idea.

“On the other hand, taking even a single breath in this universe is a statistical impossibility. An average person takes 22,000 breaths per day. I have already lived over 40 years; imagine the number of breaths I have already breathed. If that alone doesn’t make me one of luckiest person then I don’t know what does. I believe, being able to walk to a flower, hug a loved one, or as little as, whistling a tune in the shower doesn’t make one lucky, rather it makes one fortunate. In my opinion, anyone who is lucky and fortunate is blessed. Once, I was blessed too, but now I am mostly lucky.”

Powerful words. Powerful man.

So when Adnan rolled up at to the hunger walk, I was speechless. Every emotion came pouring out of me -- sadness, anger, happiness, depression, joy -- I was tingling. I was crying. I was laughing. I had tears in my eyes the first few minutes. Why? Because I was one of those complainers earlier that day, worrying about the nothingness that consumes us most days. The nothingness we have when we think our days are limitless. Maybe Adnan was like that once, but that day, and every day after, he was my Superman.

Sometimes, in the middle of all the commercialism and politics and cynicism that is life, you meet someone who clubs you with a dose of humility. Adnan – brave and full of honor -- is that for me.

He’s already lived over 40 years, and you know what? For the people that know him, we are the luckiest people on Earth.


The ALO Cultural Foundation pledges its commitment to make Adnan’s dream come true. We hope you extend your pledges too. For your kind donations visit 

Adnan has outlasted the Iron Horse and just as "lucky."