SPOKANE, Wash. – Sacajawea Middle School baseball coach and teacher, John Oakley, must bid adieu to his beloved sport of baseball.
“You know, I have no regrets. I’ve lived a great life,” said Oakley.
Oakley is in the middle of a battle no one volunteers to fight.
“To hear that you have Lou Gehrig ’s disease, that was pretty tough,” said Oakley.
The disease is stripping Oakley of his movement, along with his teaching and coaching career.
“I wanted to keep teaching and keep coaching. But, you know, I’ve done 36 years and that’s a pretty good run. But, it was time to hang it up, my body, physically I can’t do it anymore,” said Oakley.
What Oakley calls his ‘swan song season’ was exceptional. In part, because of the two who volunteered as assistant coaches, his sons Adam and Aaron.
“It’s kind of our time to be there for him” said Aaron.
“Every day’s the new normal and we kind of start to realize that every day brings something new and a new challenge,” said Adam.
One of those challenges was answered by Team Gleason, the foundation started by Spokane native and fellow ALS patient Steve Gleason.
Team Gleason heard about Oakley’s need to get around at baseball practice and stepped up to donate a golf cart.
“It’s literally become his legs out there,” said Adam.
Coach Oakley has followed Steve Gleason’s ALS battle and now with a keener eye.
“There’s a guy that, you know, he’s kind of on a pedestal, an incredible man,” said Oakley.
Clearly, a lot of people would say the same about Coach Oakley.
“Coach Oakley not only taught me to be a passionate player and student, but he showed me through the ups and downs of life, everything’s going to be alright,” said a former student of Oakley’s.
“Well, that’s pretty cool. Umm, I get pretty emotional every time I visit with a lot of the kids because this is not the way I wanted to go out,” said Oakley.
Oakley said if he has to go out, he is going to do it big.
“Make the most of every moment,” said Oakley.
Oakley is carving out more time for his grandkids. He also recently toured some Major League Baseball parks, along with some other high points with his sons.
“One of the things he wanted to do is run up the Rocky stairs at the museum,” said Aaron. “So, we have a great picture of him with his hands up next to the Rocky statue.”
With all the things ALS is taking from Oakley, there is one thing it is giving.
“You always hope you have an impact on somebody. You never know,” said Oakley.
If there is any doubt Oakley was making a positive impact, today that doubt does not stand a chance.
“It’s gone from ‘Thanks, coach’ and handshakes to now they make sure to give him a hug before they leave the field, it’s pretty cool,” said Adam.
Oakley’s reputation is one any of us would be proud to earn.
Despite carrying the burden of a very dark disease, Oakley is still using his waning energy to continue delivering a bright light.
“I know if anything positive can come of this, it’s for my Sac kids to learn how to deal with adversity and do it in a positive way,” said Oakley.
KREM 2's News Director, Noah Cooper, is also doing his part in the fight against ALS. He will be competing in Ironman CDA and raising money to go to the Gleason Foundation. To learn more on how to donate, click here.