“Pete was an inspiration to so many people around the world who drew strength from his courage and resiliency,” Frates’s family said in a statement.
“A natural born leader and the ultimate teammate, Pete was a role model for all, especially young athletes, who looked up to him for his bravery and unwavering positive spirit in the face of adversity,” the family said. “He was a noble fighter who inspired us all to use our talents and strengths in the service of others.”
Frates was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2012, when he was 27. The disease, which gets its colloquial name from the former New York Yankees great who suffered from it, causes neurons in the spinal cord and brain to die, eventually leading to paralysis and death. It has no known cure.
The ice bucket challenge took off in the summer of 2014, after Frates and his family started daring each other to dump ice water on their heads to raise awareness about the disease.
It’s possible that someone else invented the challenge, but Frates became its unrivaled living symbol almost overnight. He told the Boston Globe at the time that he got the idea from Patrick Quinn, another ALS patient. The pair met online, and Quinn would stop to visit Frates when he traveled to Boston for medical treatments.
Videos of people soaking themselves for the cause proliferated on social media that summer, drawing billions of views around the world. Scores of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James joined in the effort. Donations to ALS groups poured in.
“The ALS ice bucket challenge represents all that’s great about this country — it’s about fun, friends, family, and it makes a difference to all of us living with ALS,” Frates said at the time.
The outpouring of support stunned the president of the ALS Association, who said that the organization had “never seen anything like this in the history of the disease.”
Frates “changed the trajectory of ALS forever and showed the world how to live with a fatal disease,” the ALS Association said in a statement Monday. “His efforts to lead the Ice Bucket Challenge had a significant impact on the search for treatments and a cure for ALS.”
Frates was born Dec. 28, 1984, in Beverly, Mass. After graduating from St. John’s Prep School, he played baseball at Boston College, where he studied communications, and went on to play baseball professionally and in amateur leagues.
He discovered he had Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2012, after a he got hit on the wrist by a pitch and the injury didn’t heal properly, according to the Associated Press.
Two years later, Frates was almost completely immobilized by the disease, unable to speak or walk. He communicated by writing with the help of a tool that allowed him to choose a letter by looking at it on a keyboard.
Throughout the ordeal, Frates and his family remained relentlessly positive.
“Pete never complained about his illness,” his family said Monday. “Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to give hope to other patients and their families.”
Frates told the Globe in 2014 that the birth of his daughter, Lucy, was one of the things that kept him going as his condition worsened.
“The thought of seeing the face of our first child and knowing that I am a father is a moment I will cherish beyond words,” he said. “I may not know how many years I have left, but I will fight harder and harder each day to be there as a father and a husband.”
Frates is survived by his wife, Julie, and their daughter; his parents; a brother; and a sister.