Ice bucket challenge inspiration honored in final plunge

'This is the best birthday party he could ask for and wherever he is, he is very grateful'

GLOUCESTER, Mass. -- Hundreds of people plunged into the chilly ocean at a Massachusetts beach on Saturday to honor Peter Frates, the former college baseball player whose battle with Lou Gehrig's disease helped spread the ALS ice bucket challenge.

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About 1,000 people showed up for the final "Plunge for Pete" at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, and more than half of those braved the frigid waters on what would have been Frates' 35th birthday.

The event, in its eighth year, raised money for the Pete Frates #3 Fund, which helped pay for Frates' medical bills.  "He is laughing so hard right now at me getting into the ocean," said Frates' wife, Julie, who participated in the plunge for the first time wearing the bikini she had on when she first met her husband. "This is the best birthday party he could ask for and wherever he is, he is very grateful."

Pete Frates' widow, Julie, center, runs straight into Good Harbor in Gloucester, Mass., during the last "Plunge for Pete" event on what would have been Pete Frates' 35th birthday Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (John Blanding/The Boston Globe via AP)

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The former Boston College baseball player, who lived in Beverly, a suburb north of Boston, died Dec. 9 after a seven-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The family has accumulated roughly $500,000 in debt for their son's medical care, Pete's father, John Frates said, and the final fundraiser will hopefully help close the gap.

Julie and Pete Frates smile on the sideline at Gillette Stadium during a birthday ceremony for Pete at an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

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The family will continue to raise money for the separate Peter Frates Family Foundation, which helps other ALS patients cover home health care costs, he said.

The number of people who signed up to take the actual plunge far exceeded the peak of 250 participants who participated in 2014, the year the ice bucket challenge went viral and raised more than $200 million for ALS research worldwide.

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The ice bucket challenge involved pouring a bucket of ice water over one's head and posting a video of it on social media, and then challenging others to do the same or make a donation to charity. Most people did both.

The challenge began in 2014 when pro golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his wife's cousin Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has ALS. Patient Pat Quinn, of Yonkers, New York, picked up on it and started its spread, but when Frates and his family got involved, the phenomenon exploded on social media.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis because of the death of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain. There is no known cure

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