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(Paul Chiasson)
(Paul Chiasson)

Ex CFLer Tony Proudfoot pens farewell Add to ...

The natural impulse for most people is to shrink from the inevitability of death, especially as it becomes imminent.

But former Montreal Alouettes defensive back Tony Proudfoot isn't most people. It takes an original mind to see that a staple gun might provide the decisive edge in a football game - as Proudfoot did in the 1977 Grey Cup, a.k.a. the Ice Bowl (he still owns the tool used to modify the winning Als' footwear).

And it requires heroic courage to wade in where bullets are flying, as Proudfoot did in providing badly-needed first aid at a 2006 shooting on the campus of Dawson College, where he was a physical education teacher.

On Wednesday, Proudfoot, who is afflicted by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease) provided another glimpse of his uncommon character, with a heart-rending farewell in the pages of The Gazette in Montreal.

Quoting Lewis Carroll, Proudfoot said, "'The time has come,' literally and figuratively, and I would 'like to talk of many things.'"

Proudfoot, who has chronicled his battle with ALS through occasional columns in The Gazette, wrote, "I know this will be my last December update. Right now, I'm hanging on for Christmas, and it's a tough slog and not a guarantee."

He also included a description of the ravages of the disease.

"Focusing on my next breath requires all of my energy. I am starved of air and oxygen and need to rely on a ventilator just to feel stable, just to live. I am now on my ventilator up to 22 hours per day, often going off one, to walk slowly to another room to attach myself to another," said Proudfoot, who has been an indefatigable advocate for ALS research, and who has raised more than $500,000 since 2007.

Also among the "many things" is bidding adieu to those closest to him, for whom he said "living the reality has been awful and downright frightening."

"Goodbyes are never easy, in my case they have been the hardest. But I'm working my way through them with the deepest, heartfelt thanks I can muster," he wrote. "Do not worry about me; my incredible network will bolster and steel me for the very imminent inevitable. I so appreciate everyone's support."

What most amazes those close to Proudfoot is the dignity and forthrightness he has displayed in fighting what is a dismal, debilitating illness that has a 100-per-cent mortality rate.

"When he first got his diagnosis, my advice to him, and I put it bluntly, was that if it happened to me, I'd want to run as far away as possible," said Rick Moffatt, a close friend of Proudfoot's and his former radio broadcast partner for Alouettes' games.

Added former teammate Wally Buono, now coach and general manager of the B.C. Lions, "The most inspiring thing about Tony is how upbeat and full of life he is, even though he knows he's dying."

Earlier this year, Proudfoot had a lengthy stay in hospital as he battled pneumonia, but last month he accepted the CFL's distinguished leadership award, standing on the field at the Eastern final at the Olympic Stadium.

A week later he watched the Grey Cup with his lucky tuque from the 1974 game - which he wore as a sideline reporter in 2002, and a special consultant in 2008, both times the Als won.

If football has been his succour, the Tony Proudfoot Fund for ALS research has been his mission.

"It's the theme of his life: He was a pro athlete who achieved lofty things, but it wasn't ever about him … it was about a legacy of helping others," Buono said.

Proudfoot's friends refuse to write him off, and say they are constantly surprised by his resilience at fighting a battle he now says is lost.

"I've never met anyone like him," Moffatt said.

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