Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? What Difference Did It Actually Make?

Five years ago, the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS had taken over our news and social media feeds.

Millions of people and plenty of major celebrities have dumped buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a trend that went viral — and then it disappeared, swallowed up by other fundraising efforts inspired by the challenge.

But now, the ALS Association is out to tell the public what has been accomplished with all that ice water.

A refresher on the Ice Bucket Challenge

For those of you who don’t remember, here’s how the challenge worked:

Participants filmed themselves while they or someone else dumped a bucket of water and ice over their head. They would nominate three other people to do the same thing in the next 24 hours, and they would complete the challenge by making a donation to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.

The ice water bath was initially intended as more of a punishment for not donating, rather than a requirement, but the viral effect of watching people dump freezing cold water over their heads was what propelled the challenge to virality. As the movement gained steam, there more elaborate methods and means of getting drenched in ice cold water.

However, the Ice Bucket Challenge was not just a social media trend that people would do just for fun or to get a few likes on social media. It was a campaign initiated to raise awareness and funds for people who suffer from a disease that has no cure and slowly kills.

ALS robs people of their ability to walk, talk, eat, and eventually breathe

Until the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in the summer of 2014, a lot of people had no idea that such a disease even existed. Once people started getting involved, the campaign brought millions of dollars to the ALS Association.

The origin of the campaign has been attributed to Pete Frates, a Boston College alumnus who was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012.

By the time things were winding down, 17 million people had posted videos online accepting the challenge, including Bill Gates, Oprah, Patrick Stewart, Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt, Jeff Bezos, and many other celebrities.

How the backlash began

For starters, a lot of people didn’t understand the purpose of the campaign and some of those who did considered it more of a silly stunt rather than an education about ALS and the importance of the cause.

There were people who chose only to donate and others who just poured the icy water over their heads, for likes and shares. Then there are those who have put together creative and entertaining videos and also donated for the cause. In every case, the word was spread and awareness was raised.

A lot of bad-mouthers commented on the fact that the water used in some videos wasn’t cold enough, omitting the main goal of the campaign — which was obviously not about people catching a cold or having a hypothermic shock.

So what did the Ice Bucket Challenge actually accomplish?

Peple who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge helped launch the biggest movement in medical history, raising $115 million for the ALS Association.

In the five years since the challenge went viral, the ALS organization has spent more than $80 million on research to prolong the lives of people living with ALS, resulting in improved treatments for many of those who are afflicted. The rest of the funding was used to buy equipment like wheelchairs and walkers to assist ALS patients in their daily fight for independence and mobility.

It’s amazing to look back and see that a “challenge” which spread social media, often considered silly and insignificant, actually made such a huge difference, raised awareness, and gave hope to people in pain.

This campaign is proof that every gesture, no matter how small, can have a major impact on those in need of help

In May this year, the ALS Association began a new challenge. The “Challenge Me” campaign to continue the fight against ALS.

You can become a part of this new movement by joining a local Walk to Defeat ALS, participate in the Team Challenge ALS by running a marathon, and if you’re up for it, you can opt for the pie #InYourFaceALS challenge — and of course, donate for the cause.

Flavia Medrut

Flavia Medrut is a freelance writer, researcher and part-time psychologist. She believes music, long walks and a good sense of humor are imperative in keeping one’s sanity.

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Flavia Medrut