Williams family continues to inspire

Saturday's Run for Jeremy raises money for ALS center

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 4, 2012 

Jeremy Williams won't settle for silence, and 150 people can prove it.

That's about how many names are on the former high school football coach's text message list. Recipients span a collection of people with whom Williams has crossed paths.

It's how he talks when he can't speak.

The inspirational text messages include traces of Williams' faith. A recent message noted, "I may leave Him, but He will never leave me."

It's been two years since "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crews built a new Pine Mountain Valley house for Williams and his family.

Williams was diagnosed with ALS in 2008. The fatal condition, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It's incurable and affects behaviors like speech, swallowing and breathing. His condition has progressed since he appeared on the ABC reality TV show. He uses a feeding tube, as well as a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe. He communicates largely by mouthing words and using technology. He recently spoke to an audience through a text-to-speech app.

Last year, Williams stepped down as head football coach at Greenville High School. His passion for the game hasn't faded.

In his wheelchair, he attended the Sept. 28 Carver-Pike County game at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium with his family: wife, Jennifer, 11-year-old daughter, Josie, and 9-year-old son, Jacob, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

It was a standard Friday night for the family.

"Jeremy kind of scans the games and decides what he wants to see," said Jennifer Williams, 40. Sometimes, planning ahead is an afterthought.

"I am married to a man of impulse," she added.

Jeremy Williams will turn 41 on Sunday.

His birthday weekend includes an event in his honor: Run For Jeremy, a 5K run/walk in Harris County.

All proceeds from Saturday's race benefit the Emory ALS Center in Atlanta.

Now in its third year, the event raised $14,000 in 2011, according to co-founder Laura Ann Mann. She's familiar with multiple families in Georgia and Alabama who are affected by ALS.

"It does touch more families than you imagine," she said of the condition. She pointed to the Williams family's power to inspire, using faith as a platform.

"The family is just so strong. They are an inspiration," Mann said, adding that the Williams family will be at the race.

Strength doesn't make them immune to struggles. Jacob has had two major surgeries since appearing on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

"We're human. There are harder days and there are easier days," Jennifer Williams said.

However, she said some important things remain constant. "The two constants in our life are the faithfulness and graciousness of God and the love and support of family, friends and community," she said.

The TV crews are gone, and the Chattahoochee Valley still embraces her family. "We're just so blessed to live here," Jennifer Williams said.

The community attachment is so strong that Jacob often gets questions about his father's health.

His response: "He's doing good."

Does his sister answer the same way?

"Pretty much," she said.

As Jeremy Williams savored the atmosphere of a Friday night football game -- where words are second to action and emotion -- their assessment seemed entirely appropriate.

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