This is the
story of a woman who has given her heart and soul to a cause and a group of people.
is not the caring, compassion and generosity of spirit that defines or captures the
essence of her incredibleness, although these are exemplary qualities. It is not
the fact that she engages in countless acts of human kindness toward those who are less
It is very difficult to become emotionally invested in peoples lives, become
their friends, to know and love their spouses and children, when those friends continually
die from a disease whose cure, even an effective therapy, remains a mystery. Especially
when you dont have to. Especially when you have the ability, the opportunity, and
resources to be somewhere else -- to be involved with something that isnt so damn
The reason Shonda Schilling is incredible is because she continually chooses to
love, give, listen, organize, travel, advocate, walk, bicycle, make phone calls, inspire,
educate, raise money, ad nauseum
and for no better reason than because she
because she wants to.
Schilling cries now and then because there is something she wants but cant have,
at least not yet.
More accurately it is something she wants to fix but cannot, although for nine years
she has devoted to the effort a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. She is very
determined and passionate about what she wants, so dont expect her to stop doing
everything in her power to get it.
What Schilling wants is a cure for A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou
Many people become active in disease-related activities because they or a family member
is diagnosed with it. Schilling doesnt have ALS, nor does her husband or anyone in
her family. Still she has chosen to direct her time, talent, energy, and
"celebrity" to raising awareness and money for this as-yet unstoppable,
degenerative, muscle wasting, and eventually fatal disease which affects an estimated
30,000 Americans and claims another 5,000 every year.
|Shonda already had a
big smile to go with her big heart.
She grew up Shonda Brewer in a working class neighborhood outside of Baltimore.
She loved sports and being an athlete kept her off the streets as well as involved and
achieving in school. As a standout high school athlete, she captained the schools
field hocky, basketball, and fastpitch softball teams and was named Female Athlete of the
Year. She describes herself as a kid from the "tough part of town", but someone
with loving, caring parents. The Brewer house was the one in the neighborhood that the
kids whose parents werent home were drawn to. Mrs. Brewer was a stay-at-home mom
who, as Shonda remembers, "
was always in the middle of stuff to make sure that,
not only I was headed in the right direction, but that the others had someone look after
Athlete of the Year
Still, Shonda didnt have the material advantages of many of her classmates.
Unspoken but understood is the deep hurt experienced when people are openly ridiculed or
silently looked down upon by others because they dont have stylish clothes or come
from the wrong part of town. Shonda decided early on that she would accept people for who
they are on the inside, not the color of their skin, not the clothes they wear, or the
amount of money they have.
She also found at an early age that going to church and her faith in God was very
important to her. "There was a church across the street," she recalls, "and
from 2nd grade on I walked myself to church." Shonda credits an older
gentleman at the church, known as "Uncle Tommy", a kind of mentor to many of the
younger kids, for being a strong and special influence in her life. "Church
challenged me morally to do the right things, and I really wanted to earn and keep (Uncle
After high school graduation few, if any, of her neighborhood classmates went on to
college. "I knew I had to go to college," she says. "My brother and I both
went. We had a good home base, we knew how to make those choices
and we both knew
without anything being said thats what we needed to do."
|Shonda on her wedding day
with Uncle Tommy
Four years later, with a university communications degree in hand, Shonda took a
job with a sports television station in Baltimore. Months later in a Baltimore shopping
mall she ran into Curt Schilling, a handsome, young baseball pitcher for the Baltimore
Orioles she had met briefly before. He invited her out for dinner. Four months later he
was traded to Houston and Shonda decided to follow. After the 1991 major league season
ended, Curt was traded again, this time to the Philadelphia Phillies. Shortly thereafter,
in early 1992, Curt Schilling and Shonda Brewer were married. They had no way of knowing
that, before long, a man in a wheelchair they had never met before, and the brutal disease
affecting his life, would dramatically change their own hearts and lives forever.
The Phillies primary charitable focus is ALS, and players new to the organization
are provided with information about the illness. For the newly married Schillings, that
information included meeting a pALS (person w/ALS) by the name of Dick Bergeron.
That meeting so deeply touched their hearts and souls that almost immediately they both
decided to use Curts time in the major leagues as an opportunity to raise awareness
about ALS and raise money to help find a cure.
Curt called Ellyn Phillips, the Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia
Chapter of the ALS Association, with two things to say. I want to help was number
one. Shonda wants to help - put her to work was number two.
Shonda wanted to be with Curt and support him through the ups and downs that are an
inevitable part of a career in baseball. But that had also meant leaving her own career in
television, including her professional identity, behind. "Curt realized that it was
very important for me to have an identity separate from his own," Shonda explained.
They certainly have developed strong separate identities, but both share a burning desire
to help make a difference for ALS.
Working with the Phillies and the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of ALSA, Curt
established Curts Pitch for ALS. Beginning in 1992 Curt has donated $100 per
strikeout and $1,000 per win during each baseball season. Phillies fans and
supporters of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter are encouraged to join in and make pledges
as well. Phillips estimates that Curts Pitch and the annual Curt Schilling
Golf Outing have raised more than $1.7 million since 1992, with a significant percentage
of that coming directly from Curt and Shonda.
"A lot of people work hard (for causes) and (many professional) athletes have a
lot of money, but they dont necessarily give it," Phillips shares. "Curt
and Shonda have done both, and to such a degree that no one could have expected it."
Phillips recounts that when Shonda gave birth to her third child (Grant, now two years
old) three weeks early, she had some complications that kept her in the hospital.
Grants birth had come just five days before that years Golf Outing, an annual
fund raising event that includes golf, dinner, and an auction, all of which raise
significant funds for ALS. "Shonda, from her hospital bed, single-handely called
around and arranged for all the auction and raffle items. Then she basically defied
doctors orders, got out of the hospital and came to the golf tournament
to work! When
Shonda says shell be there to help, she will!"
|Shonda, Peggy Morandini, and
Tracy Pratt make life a little better for their pALS, John
"You will not find a friend that is more caring, generous, and fun to be
around than Shonda Schilling," says Peg Morandini whose husband, Mickey, was a
Philadelphia teammate of Curts. "Shonda was definitely the single reason that
the Phillies Wives have been so giving of their time and efforts. It was just as important
to Shonda that the (Phillies) Wives visit the (ALS) clinic in Philadelphia, meet the
patients, and understand ALS as it was to get them to donate their time (for fundraising
Morandini continues, "I cant remember anything in Philadelphia that Shonda
was ever asked to take part in that she didnt accept. Yes, ALS was probably the most
prominent of her activities, but by far not the only one. Each year she encouraged other
wives to join her in "adopting" a family at a womens shelter, she actively
participated in events to raise money for breast cancer, and she has traveled to
Washington D.C. several times to personally lobby legislators for ALS research
"Perhaps though, the single reason why myself and so many others are continually
amazed by Shonda is because all her actions are driven by her huge heart. Her ability to
make each and every person she meets feel important and loved is a (rare) gift. When Curt
was traded to Arizona (during the 2000 season), I knew the pALS in that area would
feel as though an angel had been dropped into their lives."
Prior to the start of the 2001 season, Curt Schilling signed a new contract to pitch
for the Arizona Diamondbacks. At that time, he and Shonda pledged a combined total of $1
million to the Philadelphia and Arizona ALS chapters and the United Way. Thats
called putting your money where your mouth is.
ALS is also commonly known as Lou Gehrigs Disease, taking its name from
the famous New York Yankee Hall of Fame slugger, nicknamed The Iron Horse, the man
longtime sportswriter Jim Murray described as "Gibralter in cleats".
Gehrigs fabulous 16 year baseball career was cut tragically short in 1939 when he
was diagnosed with ALS. Gehrig died in 1941 at the age of 37, nearly two years to the day
after his last major league game.
In 1995 Shonda Schilling gave birth to her and Curts first child, a boy, who they
Now six years old, when people mistakenly call him Gary, he loves to explain
that he is named after Lou Gehrig. Thats called putting your life publically and
permanently where you say your values are. They all hope that one day soon, his name will
be associated only with a great ballplayer rather than with a brutal disease that has no
"Is the glass half empty or half full?" I ask Shonda.
"Half empty," she replies. I am surprised, even a little stunned by her
unexpected answer. She is so utterly positive, determined, and optimistic. In answer to my
unspoken follow up question she explains, "I still havent told enough people
(about ALS), I still havent raised enough money. If I had, we wouldnt be
having this discussion."
When she was young and growing up on the tough side of Baltimore, she wasnt,
someone who wanted to grow up and have lots of money," Schilling says.
"I wanted to be someone who made a difference." Often times in our society those
two things are mutually exclusive. But not here, not now.
|The Schillings, from l to r,
Grant, Shonda, Gabriella, Curt, and Gehrig
Life has brought Schilling to a place where she is a happily married mother of
three and her husband is a very successful major league baseball player. Still, she
remains utterly determined to not let her husbands celebrity or income change her
rock-solid values, or separate her from others less fortunate - in her own mind or theirs.
Shonda Schilling could be pals and hang out with the so-called beautiful people
of society if she chose to. She is charming, extremely bright, strikingly beautiful, and
has the resources to live in a world of comfort and opportunity. Instead she has chosen to
spend a great deal of time "hanging out" with people in wheelchairs, some who
cant speak, some who are fed through a tube in their stomach, some who drool. She
loves and is devoted to each one. These are her pALS. It is that amazing,
beautiful, ongoing choice that makes her truly incredible.
Mark Reiman is
co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People Magazine. He would
love to hear your feedback at Mark@IncrediblePeople.com.
Or visit our staff page at http://www.incrediblepeople.com/staff.htm