BRADENTON -- Forty high school students gathered Tuesday by the pool at G.T. Bray Park Recreation Center, 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton, for a massive ice bucket challenge.
Palmetto and Manatee high school swim and dive team members stood before colored buckets and coolers, just waiting for the icy feeling.
The challenge was Evelyn Magann's idea.
Magann, aquatics director at the Bradenton Country Club and coach of the Palmetto High School first-year swim team, heard about a friend's friend whose husband died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. According to the ALS Association, the neurodegenerative disease affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
"I didn't know exactly everything about ALS, so she educated me, and I wanted to know more, so I called her friend," said Magann.
The friend is Jill Thurmond, who was there with her daughter, Hannah Cochrane. Thurmond, who lost her husband, Chris Thaman, in 2001 to ALS, spoke movingly to the students before they dumped the ice water about what the dis
ease does to the body.
"It's pretty sad. There's no cure. There's no medicine," she said into a microphone. "Over a period of time, you lose your muscles and you lose your ability to function and it takes your life."
Thurmond, who has since remarried, said it is hard to talk about ALS. She said she spent this weekend wondering what she was going to say.
"It was probably a real healing time for me -- just rehashing and writing things down and tearing them up and throwing them away," Thurmond said as her daughter looked at her. "We lost a good, special person."
Magann, who brought a folder filled with information and facts on ALS for students, shared her thoughts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has been embraced and sharply criticized.
"I thought: 'All these students are doing these challenges and they don't know what they're doing them for,'" she said earlier over the phone. "Most people out there are just doing it to do it."
Students from Palmetto High School were the first to dump ice water on those from Manatee High. The moment passed as soon as it arrived with students screaming and jumping in shock from the cold.
Then, they switched places and Palmetto students took it.
Taylor Holmes, 16, and Megan Carpenter, 17, of Palmetto High School, said they didn't know much about ALS before the challenge.
"I had heard about it but I didn't really know what it did or anything like that," said Carpenter, adding students appreciated Thurmond speaking to them.
Holmes said she felt the ice bucket challenge trend helps raise awareness and pointed out it's helped raise a lot of money (an estimated $100 million so far) for the ALS Association.
Thurmond hung around for a bit after the challenge ended.
"Early on, when we heard about the ice bucket challenge and dumping water on your head, it was kind of hard for us having lost somebody with ALS and it being so intimate and then it (ice bucket challenge) seemed so trivial and silly," she said.
After a short pause, Thurmond said she and her family were thrilled it's raised so much money for the cause.
"I think it all just boils down to however you want to do the challenge ... just as long as you donate," she said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.