Anthony Senerchia, who served as the early inspiration for the viral "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" for his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, died at the age of 46 on Nov. 25.
Senerchia was diagnosed with ALS in 2003 and doctors expected him to live for only a few more years; however, he managed to survive for 14 years with the disease, reports The Ledger-Enquirer.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Association. As the disease progresses and affects nerve cells, those suffering from ALS can lose the ability to speak, eat, move their limbs or breathe. The disease can be sporadic, meaning it can affect anyone, or familial, meaning it is inherited from family.
More than 20,000 Americans are estimated to be living with ALS, for which there is no known cure. Military veterans are reportedly twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS as the general public, but it's unknown why.
The diagnosis was difficult for Senerchia and his family, said his wife Jeanette, but the dad was devoted to his daughter, 9-year-old Taya.
"It's a difficult disease and tough when you're losing," said Jeanette, according to The Journal News. "Your body is failing you. But he was a fighter ... He was our light. He made our life better."
Senerchia worked at a construction firm in New York before starting his own contracting company, SCC Construction.
Senerchia created the Anthony Senerchia Jr. ALS Charitable Foundation, which funds research on ALS and helps families who are battling the disease. Pelham Memorial High School, where Senerchia attended and played football, also honors a student athlete exhibiting leadership and strength with an award named after him.
In 2014, Senerchia and his family became central to the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge," in which participants would dump freezing water on their heads to raise awareness and money for ALS research, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.
Jeanette's cousin, professional golfer Chris Kennedy, told Jeanette about the challenge, sparking what would become a viral phenomenon. Kennedy is believed to be one of the first people to dump ice water on his head to raise awareness for ALS.
"He sent it to me as a joke and then it turned into something extraordinary," said Jeanette.
The challenge spread throughout Pelham, with people associating the viral campaign with Senerchia, before another man with ALS posted a video of the challenge to his large social media following, causing the challenge to explode online. Celebrities including Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt and Stephen Spielberg took part in the challenge, which raised millions for ALS research.
In 2016, the original ice bucket Jeanette used in her Ice Bucket Challenge video was donated and displayed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
"Anthony will be remembered as a fireball who tried everything in life," reads Senerchia's obituary. "He was family oriented, generous and always ready to lend a helping hand. He was a great husband, a proud father, a loving son and a great brother. He will be missed by everyone who knew him."
Sources: Ledger-Enquirer, Journal News, ALS Association, Smithsonian National Museum of American History / Featured Image: Barta IV/Flickr / Embedded Images: Global Panorama/Flickr, Traverse City Rotary Club/Flickr