HOW IT BEGAN
Nobody enjoys the beach more than Josh Thompson. He was an avid surfer. He loved
taking his family to the beach. He grew up on the beach and thought he'd be
riding his board for years to come. But in late 2006, Josh was diagnosed with
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Josh
had to turn his attention from riding waves to fighting ALS, a battle few so
young have to face.
The fight has been one of frustration. Frustration with barriers to drug access,
with as yet unsuccessful experimental treatments and with the lack of a cure.
But rather than let their frustration turn to bitterness, Josh and his family
have converted their frustration to a massive mobilization for the search for
treatments and eventually a cure.
In 2007, a group of young men that had been raised together in Virginia Beach
decided they wanted to find a way to give something back to the community and
formed the Virginia Gentlemen Foundation. When Chris Thompson, a founding
member, received news that his brother, Josh, was diagnosed with ALS, The
Virginia Gentlemen decided to make the fight against ALS their goal as well.
Working with the local ALSA chapter their first initiative, named "The Keys to
Life Program" helped patients with transportation to and from medical
appointments, but it didn't stop there.
In 2008, the Virginia Gentlemen partnered with ALSA in the local Walk. This
annual walk, previously held at The Botanical Gardens, was moved to the
oceanfront boardwalk to accommodate the expected attendance. What started out as
one team in the Hampton Roads ALS walk has now become the National ALS
Foundation's largest single day walk and fundraiser, raising over $6 million to
date for stem cell research for neurological disorders, ALS patient services and
the creation of JT's Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground for EveryBODY. The
2011 community project was funding a new child-friendly neonatal and pediatric
mobile transport for Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters, nicknamed the
Over the last 5 years more than 30,000 people have gathered at the Virginia
Beach oceanfront to participate in what is now known as the JT Walk & Beach
Party. This year promises an even bigger turnout.