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Former Bears Super Bowl champion Steve “Mongo” McMichael was all smiles Saturday morning as he waited to receive the first-ever annual ALS Courage Award at Soldier Field.
On his right, his wife, Misty, was holding back tears as she cradled the glass plaque in her hands. The couple wore matching black shirts with “Me Mongo” and “Mrs. Mongo,” respectively.
“I never thought that I could admire the man more than I already did,” McMichael’s former teammate Keith Van Horne said while presenting the honor. “But watching him, how he carries himself dealing with this toughest opponent that he’s ever had to face, he’s done it with grace and humor.”
McMichael is best known as one of the beloved leaders and most colorful characters of the 1985 Bears, the only team in franchise history to win a Super Bowl. But earlier this year, the ex- defensive tackle revealed to the Tribune his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the progressive nervous system disease that is disrupting his brain’s ability to communicate with his muscles.
On Saturday, during the 20th anniversary of the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s Walk for Life, McMichael accepted its inaugural Courage Award before vowing that “one of these days, we’ll cure this.”
And, staying true to his brand as a jokester, he gently poked fun at his old teammates surrounding him below the stage.
“It was these guys around me up here that taught me courage because going out and partying with them, I knew I was going to have that courage to survive it,” McMichael said. “So they already taught me how to deal with ALS.”
Among the hundreds in the crowd preparing for the two-mile stroll along Lake Michigan was the family of the late Eric Queyquep, who died of ALS in 2012 at the age of 46. His wife, Ninfa Queyquep, said she has brought her sizable team to the Walk for Life event every year since 2010. When COVID-19 interrupted the annual tradition last year, her family did the walk on their own in their hometown of Bensenville, Illinois.
“It’s nice to see the whole community this year,” Queyquep, 51, said. “Being together, seeing others, the other families and others that are battling ALS, it kind of reminds you why you’re here and why you’re walking.”
The goal of the walk is to raise money for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. But ahead of the kickoff Saturday, the nonprofit’s CEO Andrea Pauls Backman said ultimately, organizers like her want to see a day when such an event is no longer needed.
As of Saturday afternoon, the event had raised $435,000 of its $600,000 goal and saw about 3,000 attendees.
“My mother was diagnosed in 2006,” Pauls Backman said. “There weren’t a lot of options at that point either, but I made a promise to her that I was going to work in this community and we were going to make a difference in this disease. So thank you for helping fulfill my promise to my mother.”
Another walker, Anne Zager from Lisle, said she felt “mixed emotions” while waiting for the walk to start. She lost her father to ALS this May.
“My dad ran out of time,” Zager, 36, said. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still raise money and hope.”