BUCKHANNON – Former Buckhannon-Upshur High School quarterback Seth Poling gave the Buccaneers a rousing pre-game speech before they faced off against the Ripley Vikings in Friday’s football game.
Poling met the team in the weight room leading up to the game and spoke to all the players about his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, diagnosis. The rare neurological condition, classified as a motor neuron disease, is also sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“ALS is 100 percent fatal; the average life expectancy is between two to five years, and I have been living with ALS for eight years,” Poling said. “As you can see, I can’t move, speak or breathe without assistance. ALS causes the motor neurons to stop communicating with the muscles, leading to weakness and eventually causing death. I use my eyes to time communicate with others and I can even drive with my eyes — I know what you are thinking, yes, I am a badass.”
Poling said with his diagnosis, he has adapted and learned to embrace adversity.
“There are days that I can barely get out of bed, so I have had to develop a mental attitude in which I embrace adversity,” Poling said. “We as humans are wired to seek comfort, and we run from adversity. I challenge every one of you to forgo your desire for comfort and embrace adversity. Adversity is opportunity obscured by doubt and fear. I have had three life-extending surgeries, the most difficult by far was my tracheostomy. I was ready to throw in the towel because of how much discomfort I was going through.”
He said only 10 percent of people living with ALS undergo a tracheostomy, an opening surgically created through the neck into the trachea that allows direct access to the breathing tube.
“The expense is the main deterrent, but the thought of being tethered to a ventilator and prolonging this unimaginable life is a challenge that few accept,” Poling said. “I knew from the moment I received my diagnosis that I was in this fight for the long haul. I knew I would experience moments of doubt and mind-bending, teeth-grinding frustration.”
He said everyone in the room had experienced adversity in their life, including the current B-UHS football team.
“I think that this entire team faced some adversity last Friday night at Bridgeport,” Poling said. “Trust me, fellas, I have been through the same thing: I was the starting quarterback in my junior and senior years in Buckhannon. In my junior season, we finished the season 4-6, and I got the hell beat out of me every game.”
His coach benched him at halftime during the last game of his junior season.
“I was embarrassed, furious and I vowed to get better,” Poling said. “Flash forward to my senior season, and people were asking questions: ‘Will Buckhannon have another losing season? They open the season against the perennial powerhouse Morgantown High School, will they even score?’”
Morgantown wound up beating them 40-0.
“The Record Delta published an article about the game with my picture, with a quote from Coach (Eddie) Vincent where he said they made us look slow,” Poling said. “I felt personally responsible for the loss, so I vowed to make a difference; I refused to give up. You see, just like many of you, I was not the most talented or gifted athlete. There is a saying that I took to heart after my junior year – ‘Hard work outworks talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
After Morgantown, his team turned everything around.
“After getting embarrassed by Morgantown, we went gangbusters, and we ripped off nine straight wins and finished the season 9-1. We were the first team to host a home playoff game in 25 years,” Poling said. “Unfortunately, we lost to Jefferson County in the first round of the playoffs, but I received a scholarship to play football at Fairmont State College after the season. The moral of this story is that adversity is part of life. Do not run away when things get hard.”
He said failures are going to happen, but anything can happen after them.
“You will get embarrassed by Morgantown or Bridgeport, but what is to say that you aren’t one win away from going on a winning streak like my senior year? Embrace adversity, go against the grain, be one of the 10 percent of people who knowingly trudges uphill against insurmountable odds to face certain death, but refuse to accept defeat.”
“If I can fight against a terminal illness, you can suck up that embarrassing loss and kick the [expletive] out of Ripley,” Poling said. “Good luck, play hard, fast and smack someone in the mouth for old number 10. Let’s go BUCS!”