Lee Carpenter will read this between 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. He sleeps during the day. That got started when the boys were still boys so he could be rested and ready when they got back from school. When they left home, he stuck with it. He wakes up at 5 p.m., talks to Gail—they have a blinking system, and she can kind of read his lips—and watches TV, mainly the Home and Garden Network, until midnight. Then Gail hooks up him up to the computer and says goodnight, and that’s when he gets his work done, mainly through emails written with a cursor he moves with his eyes.
Maybe one of his students has a question about the criminal justice class. Maybe Gail wrote him a love letter from the living room. Maybe a writer wants to know what it’s like living with Lou Gherig’s disease.
This is what it’s like:
He can’t go camping or take out the trash, or wash the car, or hug anyone.
He can’t speak. He can’t move. A nurse bathes him. Shaves him. A little suitcase-sized machine breathes for him. He can’t smell or taste. He’s fed liquid meals straight into his stomach through a tube.
He can’t get out there in the yard with the sons and the grandsons and reenact the glory days. He can’t show them how to throw the kind of spiral that made him a star quarterback at Childersburg High School in 1970. And he can’t show them The Tackle.
After Bill Newton blocked two punts in the final minutes of the 1972 Iron Bowl and ol’ David Langner ran them both in for touchdowns and Gardner Jett kicked the extra point, all Auburn had to do was hold off the Crimson Tide for one minute. Just stop Bama one more time.
BOOM – the kick off. BOOM – The Tackle. And the white Auburn jersey that made it? No. 41—Lee Carpenter.
“Of course I made other tackles during those two years and maybe even in that same game,” says Carpenter, a defensive back for the Tigers from 1971-74. “But being in on that tackle, knowing now Alabama would have to go 80 yards in so little time against our defense… was the most important tackle or performance for me.”
Auburn went on to win the game, arguably the most memorable in Auburn history, 17 to 16.
He can’t high-five any of the old teammates about it when they stop by the house. But he can listen to them tell the old stories. He can listen to the birds up in the oaks thanks to the sun room the guys built for him with funds raised by the Auburn Football Letterman’s Club. He can love the wife who rolls him out there with all of his heart, one of the few muscles that still work. And he can believe in the God who made it still possible to do things like earn his master’s degree online and teach a distance learning course for Central Alabama Community College with an optically controlled computer interface and make a little money for the family.
In other words, he can live.
“It’s just a way of life,” Gail says. “We’ve lived with it a lot longer than without it.”
Carpenter was diagnosed with Aymaotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 1986. He was playing golf. He hit the ball over the fence. When he went to climb it, his leg wouldn’t work. By 1991, he needed a ventilator to stay alive. At first, he wasn’t going to take it. He was just going to slip away.
“One night when things were at a critical point and I was having difficulties breathing, we went to the hospital,” Carpenter says. “That night the doctor said ‘it’s time to make the decision.’ I said ‘we have the will, everything is in writing,’ and I accepted my fate. After a few minutes something came over that told me our boys needed a dad and I said ‘do the ventilator.’”
That means his grandchildren still have a grandfather, and Gail still has a husband, and the old teammates still have No. 41.
So what’s it like living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease?
It took him seven hours to blink the answer…
* What happens at the Chi Omega Fall Woodser stays on The War Eagle Reader
* I Survived the Kopper Kettle Explosion and all I got was this t-shirt
* Erin Andrews at Toomer’s Corner
* The Ron Swanson Pyramid of Auburn
* Montgomery Business that de-toilet papers Toomer’s busier than ever
* Auburn’s Miss Universe contestant, Audrey Moore
* Auburn amputee has tiger-striped prosthetic legs
* Model Molly Sims spotted at the Iron Bowl in an Auburn jersey
God bless you, Mr. Carpenter.
Susan Waller-Scherr says
Coach Carpenter, I was a student of yours from the class of ’83. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. God’s grace to you and your family.
Alan Lewis says
Tremendous story. My uncle, Wilbur Lee Dunson, Jr, succumbed to ALS in August of 2005, just a year after diagnosis. He was 49. He watched his daughter graduate High School in June. His wife of 29 years, passed suddenly from heart failure the same June, 52 days later he was gone too. I admire the strength of the Carpenter family. I respect his decision to fight beyond hope of recovery, just as I respected my Uncle’s decision not to linger beyond hope of recovery. I miss him terribly. We were fishing and NASCAR buddies. I prefer to remember him that way.
thanks for sharing. kind of brings one’s problems into perspective. War Eagle!
Steve Harris says
Coach Carpenter, I played baseball and football for you at Talladega High School in the 70’s, I still remember many good times, especially in baseball. Thanks for all you have done, I appreciate your courage and desire to hang in there, for yourself and your family. War Eagle.
Kim Barley Burford says
Coach Carpenter, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to read this article. Thank you! I am humbled, inspired, grateful for knowing you and honored that I had you as a teacher. God bless you and your family. – Kim Barley, Homewood High School Class of 1986
Jeri Fletcher Reebals says
You inspired me as my high school teacher, Homewood Class of ’87, and you continue to inspire me. Please keep sharing your amazing stories. Your life blesses so many! Please know what a difference you make in this world!
What a wonderful story. I wish Mr. Carpenter and his family a Merry Christmas.
Kamie Rankin Compton says
It was great reading this story. I was giving blood at redcross last year and met a former coach/coworker of yours and we sat and talked about you for a little while. You were definitely one of my favorite teachers! I have 1 son who went thru homewood (and auburn 1 year) and 2 going thru homewood schools now, and they all know about you. God Bless you.
Kamie Compton class of ’86
Becky Howard Allen says
You and your family are a true inspiration. I am truly blessed that you were a part of my education. Thanks for sharing your story!
Becky Howard Allen (Homewood Class of 85)
Ally Rozelle Leonard says
Thank you for sharing your story…I was a student of yours in 1987. You are an inspiration to us all! I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.
Ally Rozelle Leonard
The Carpenters are friends of my family as my parents went to high school at CHS and a lot of my family still lives in Childersburg. I think Mr. Carpenter is a testament to the Auburn Spirit and a great example of perseverance and purpose. Lee deciding to keep going gave his children a father and his grandchildren a grandfather. But he and Mrs. Carpenter also gave the town of Childersburg, the Auburn Family, and me an great inspirational example of strength, courage, and love. War Eagle and Merry Christmas Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter.
Monica Mark Luster says
What an wonderful story … Thank you for sharing it!! I was a student of yours.. at Homewood Class of 1987 and I have so many wonderful memories in your classroom. Always know how much you inspired me then and continue to… Your and your family have touched so many lives and I am thankful for having the opportunity to know the wonderful person, teacher, coach and friend you were to so many! God Bless you always!
Monica Mark Luster
Gary Mullins says
Coach, I just wanted to say thank you. Not just for what you taught me in football and class. But for being an inspiration as a father and husband. Your will power and love for your family inspire me to be better at both.
I can’t bring myself to say War Eagle, you understand, but thank you, Merry Christmas and God bless.
HHS Class of 84
Kelly Council says
Your courage is awe-inspiring. You’ve beat the odds and endured more than most could imagine for the sake of your family. I was in your class at Homewood High when you were diagnosed in 1986. You’ve exceeded all expectations from that time, and I am blessed to have learned from such an incredible, kind, dear man. What I have learned from you since leaving your classroom is far more profound than any book knowledge you dispensed, though. God Bless you, Coach Carpenter. You are a true legend and a brave hero!
Ruth Anne glausier says
Thank you for being such a wonderful teacher at Homewood High. You were definetly an awesome teacher and coach. I love you bunches and wish your family a very Merry Christmas
Renee Snider Buchanan says
Coach Carpenter, what an AUsome story!! I had you as a teacher (Class of 1986) and you were one of my favorites. I remember you telling us of the diagnosis. I am so honored to have been in your class and what an inspiration you are to all of us – thank you. Also a big thank you for sharing this story and God bless you and your family and Merry Christmas.
Eddy Burnett says
Hey Coach C….
You were an inspiration on the football field. You were an inspiration in the classroom at Homewood. And you now are more of an inspiration than ever. Slow to anger and quick to offer help, you’ve touched alot of lives. I know mine is better for it.
HHS – Class of ’89
Cathy Morgan Davis says
Hey Coach Carpenter! Wow! What a story!
I graduated from HHS in 1986 and you were my teacher! I still remember when we found out what was wrong with you and what they thought, at the time, was your prognosis. I continue to be amazed at all you have accomplished since being diagnosed with ALS and what an inspiration you are for others.
Thank you for continuing to share your story.
Cathy (Morgan) Davis
HHS Class of 1986
Pamela Walker Stafford says
Thanks for encouraging others with your inspiring story. God is using you in miraculous way. I went to Homewood (CO88) but I dont think you were one of my teachers. I hate I never got a chance to be in one of your classes. You encouraged so many around you and that is truly a blessing. If all men had the love and determination for their family as you have, just think what type of world we would be living in. You are definitely a God given example of what husbands, fathers, and leaders should follow. May God bless and keep you and your family. May His Grace, Love and Mercy surround you this holiday season, today and in the future.
Pamela Walker Stafford
Class of 88
Rachel Johnson Cobia says
Thank you for being an inspiration to me all these years! May God continue to bless you and tour family!
Rachel Johnson Cobia
Homewood High ’86
Patsie Whitlock Jones says
I don’t know if you remember me but I used to come with Dr. Kenneth Friday to assist him in cleaning your teeth. I have since moved to another office but I haven’t forgotten what a blessing you were then to so many and how that continues to grow as each year passes. God is using you in a powerful way to guide so many young and old. Continue to bless others as He has blessed you with this wanderful gift of communication, determination, and inspiration.
Patsie Whitlock Jones
Class of ’84
Amy McCorkle Jackson says
Coach Carpenter – My memory is not the sharpest about some of the kids from Homewood High School, but I remember you well. You made a huge impression on so many of us and, for lack of a better expression, I’m tickled to read about you! I would guess that being a teacher would be a hard living, but you made it look easy. Thanks for changing lives all those years ago and for still being such an inspiration to so many.
Amy McCorkle Jackson
Homewood High School
Class of 1986
P.S. WAR EAGLE!
Robert Maxson says
Coach, the truth…I hadn’t thought about you since Homewood. What an awesome story of overcoming and selflessness, I’m positive your family is glad. Cancer survivor myself. What I remember more is that year y’all whipped Bama. That was the year I became an Auburn fan. If I ever get to see/email you again I’ll tell you how that happened. Merry Christmas!!
Ouida Trucks Biering says
I am a graduate of CHS and a former member of Childersburg First Baptist Church. I was at that ’72 Iron Bowl and it was magic! All of Childersburg is proud of you, Lee. You and your family are loved so much, and you remain in our prayers. War Eagle and the happiest of holidays to your family!
Wiley Morris says
Great article. Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter, it’s great to hear news about you both. I’m a CHS class of ’79 graduate, and my late brother Pete graduated in ’71. I remember the 1970 season, and when I was in high school, the 1970 team and Mr. Lee Carpenter were the benchmarks that everything was measured against. You continue to make the Childersburg and Auburn families very proud. I wish you guys all the best.
Robby Howell says
I’ve talked with Lee and Gail over the past couple of years. I too am a product of Childersburg and a graduate of Auburn. I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s in March of 2007 but symptoms started in 2005 as I lost my voice. They have both been an inspiration to me. My mobility is a little bit better than Lee’s as I have a power chair to get around but I still require somebody to put me in the chair and I still have about 40% use of my hands, so I use a computer to speak for me, text on my phone, do emails, and am on Facebook.
Lee and Gail, thank you for your inspiration……have a Very Merry Christmas!
Mark Edwards says
It’s so touching to read this story, Coach Carpenter. You taught me during the 1981-82 school year at Homewood High and were wonderful to me and my classmates. You also were our junior varsity football coach. You had such a wonderful sense of humor, and I still tell stories about some of the jokes you told. You also had a common sense way of looking at the world, and that made me appreciate and respect you even more.
The Decatur Daily
Judy Fennell Brown says
I’ve known Lee’s family since the early 1960s and know that he is truly a product of a loving, Christian family. What a wonderful ambassador he is for Childersburg and for Auburn!!!! LEE, NOT ONLY ARE YOU AN INSPIRATION TO ME…………..YOU ARE MY HERO!
Angel Day Warren says
Coach Carpenter, you are an inspiration to me. I graduated Talladega High in 1980. I knew that you were sick in 1986….Coach Clark mentioned it to me. I never knew exactly what was wrong, until I read this article. I am so humbled by you…just as I was as your student! Over the last 30 years, my husband and I have talked about how we met in your 9th grade class and what a great teacher you were! I hope you know that you are truly loved by all who have been touched by you!
Lance Hendrix says
I played football for you at HHS in 1980. I also had you as my economics teacher. You were fantastic at both. You were definatley a very positive influence on my life. Thank you for all that you have done, and all that you will do.
Wayne Crowe says
Thank you for being such a wonderful teacher and an inspiration. There are only a few teachers that stand out in my mind from my days at Homewood and you are on the top of the list. God bless you and your family.
Class of 1986
Dianne Abbott Smelley says
I graduated from Childersburg High with Lee in 1970. Lee is a wonderful person, It is amazing to me how he has endured this
illness my grandmother also had ALS so I know the effects of the
Dianne Abbott Smelley says
Sorry, lost my connection.
disease. Lee is a very special person with a wonderful family.
God bless and keep up the good work.
Sue Graphos says
What an incredible journey. I remember so well when my son, Ted, was at HHS and it was announced that you were diagnosed with ALS. I remember you coming across the stage in a scooter at an assembly. I couldn’t imagine being so young and being faced with such a disabling disease. When my daughter was 21, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Like you, she has an incredible will and faith in God. She is now using a scooter to ambulate. She finished undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Alabama and is currently engaged to a wonderful man.
Sammy and I have kept up with you through the years. May God bless you and your wonderful family.
Sue and Sammy Graphos
Scott Leigh says
Hey Coach Carpenter, it is very good to see you, I played football for you at Homewood from 78-80 and had you for Economics. Keep up the good work and our prayers will be with you and your family. We live right up 280 from you in Chelsea, My wife (Angela Zeller) also said hello.
God bless, Scott Leigh
Neil Roberts says
I was a student of yours in the late 70’s. I was a manager on the football team when you were a coach My brothers Bill and Mike played football also. You’re an inspiration to me especially since I was diagnosed with MS in 1999. I have a wonderful life also. I am married, and have two children and a granddaughter. Keep motivating, keep inspiring and God bless you and your family.
Neil and Pat Roberts family
Class of ’79
Tina Radney Thomas says
You were truly a wonderful teacher at HHS; I remember you well and loved baby sitting for your boys. You will never know how much your kindness to me during those years helped a shy girl feel at home at HHS since I moved from Forestdale my freshman year. I have so enjoyed keeping up with you, your children and grandchildren through Sandi who has worked at our office for many years until the end of this May. You have a beautiful family and you are a wonderful husband, father and person who has touched more lives that you will every know.
Elizabeth Lassiter Fitzpatrick says
Dear Coach Carpenter, obviously I am late in posting a message. I hope it will still reach you 4 years after the article was written. I am sitting here watching the Super Bowl and you popped in mind. I was in your home room and economics class my senior year at Homewood. You were one of my favorites and one of the reasons I chose to go to Auburn. You were so kind, even tempered, genuinely interested in your students and a great teacher…cute too! All the girls thought so… My family moved to Montgomery after graduation so I lost touch with Homewood for a while, I did know of your diagnosis, but much later. I saw your story on Spiirt of Alabama and was so genuinely touched by you and Gail and your precious family. I now have a 17 year old who wil be a senior next year and will be taking economics. I also have another son who will be playing varsity football next year. I now see you and all my teachers with a new perspective and have even more respect for you. I have prayed for you over the years and will continue to do so, but I also pray that I will continue to have the perspective of gratitude and humility you so clearly have. Thank you for not just fighting and living, but loving your life and showing us all what it means to see life as wonderful… Giving thanks in all circumstances. Go Patriots and War Eagle! -Elizabeth (HHS ’84)