The Clifford family never knew Jeremy Williams before seeing the documentary based on his life, "Season of a Lifetime," but they felt as though they knew his story well.
"Season of a Lifetime" chronicles the battle Williams, the coach of a small-town high school football team in Georgia, had with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Hilton Head Island residents Ron and Judi Clifford have a son who is fighting the same battle. David Clifford is a former athlete and football coach living in his hometown of Carmel, Ind., whose life was forever changed by the neurodegenerative disease that cripples the body.
At the request of some of the football coaches and players who knew Clifford well, director Rick Cohen held a screening of the documentary in Carmel as a fundraiser for the families of the two coaches and the ALS Association.
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Since their son was diagnosed, the Cliffords have made it their life's work to combat the disease, the documentary playing a big role in their fight.
They'll be holding another screening of the film Thursday at Park Plaza Cinema on Hilton Head to raise money for the association. The Cliffords and Cohen will be there to speak.
Like most cases of ALS, the onset of the disease came as a surprise to the family, its manifestations arriving in mysterious ways.
It started with the choking. David would be drinking a Coke, and he'd start to choke. A strange occurrence, but not too much of an alarm. What followed was a string of maladies. He had surgery to repair carpal tunnel and plantar fasciitis. Each seemed unrelated, Judi said.
Then he had a major heart attack. Shortly after, he was finally diagnosed. From there, he quickly grew worse.
Now, he struggles to talk, move his hands and hold his head up. He feeds though a tube. Recently, he found that he could no longer turn a page in a book, losing one of his favorite pastimes.
David was a financial officer for a theater chain and a consummate athlete, a former football player who still biked, skied and did anything to remain active. Within two years or so, he was slowly deteriorating. He lost about 100 pounds in a year.
"He's always been the big, strong athlete," said his younger sister, Leslie. "It just feels so strange to see him like this. What this disease does is rob you of your identity."
Judi was a longtime friend of Park Plaza theater owner Lucie Mann through church, and the two collaborated to organize the screening.
Like Coach Williams, David became a figure to rally around for the Carmel High School football team. A former Carmel player himself, David had coached many of the players in youth league. The team won the state championship last year. The coach of the team gave David his state championship metal.
The Cliffords plan to continue to battle ALS by raising money, starting an ALS chapter locally and holding a walk in the spring.
"I believe 100 percent that something good will come from this," Judi said. "He told me, 'Mom, it's too late for me, but you need to continue on.'"