The Handlebars for Hope Challenge started, simply enough, because Pat Quinn didn’t want to shave his head.
Pat, one of the founders of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and a longtime ALS advocate who was diagnosed with the disease in 2013, had been asked to participate in another fundraiser, Shave for ALS. The challenge was to shave your head and share the results on social media to help raise money and awareness for the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) and our mission to find effective treatments for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
However, Pat had no interest in getting rid of his hair. “I mean, come on, my entire body is withering away from this piece of sh*t disease,” he wrote, “but I still can grow a nice head of hair!” Instead he came up with a novel idea to still have some fun with a shaving razor while raising money for ALS research: he would grow a handlebar mustache, share the goofy pictures on social media, and solicit donations.
“Let's create ALS awareness and challenge each other to raise money for ALS research while looking ridiculous with a handlebar mustache,” he challenged his followers. “I see firemen pull it off all the time, now it's time for everyone to give it a try!”
Pat was joined by others in the ALS community, including Matt Bellina, retired US Navy Lt. Commander and ALS advocate, and Jay Smith, founder of the Every 90 Minutes Foundation, who are both also living with ALS. Through their efforts, and those of many more who have shaved their own mustaches, they’ve raised almost $30,000 and counting for our ALS research, cruising past the campaign’s initial goal of $20,000.
There have been a number of funny and inspiring exchanges over social media over the course of the campaign, but the most exciting and touching may well have been the bidding war that arose over Matt Bellina’s haircut.
Matt chose to add another level to the challenge to encourage big donations: in addition to his handlebar mustache, he would shave the name of the top donor to his team at the end of July into the back of his head. At first it seemed like he might be able to honor someone he truly admired or a generous stranger, but then things took a dramatic turn:
“For a while [Augie’s quest founder and ALS TDI board chairman] Augie Nieto was the top bidder, and I was happy about that because Augie is one of my personal heroes,” he says. “But then there was a late bid from somebody calling himself Tom Brady.”
Bellina, a diehard football fan with deep hatred for the New England Patriots, was horrified.
“Brady is probably the greatest villain in the history of sports so I was devastated,” he says. “I knew I had to keep my word, but Tom Brady is literally the last name I would want shaved into my head.”
For a while, it looked like Matt would have to wear the name of one his most-hated sports figure on his head until his hair could grow back. But then a last minute, anonymous donor came in, beating “Tom Brady’s” number. Their only stipulation was that, if their donation was the largest at the end of the month, the rights to pick the name shaved into the back of Matt’s head should go to his wife, Caitlin.
Matt needed to know who had swooped in at the last minute to save him. Since the donation was anonymous, he had to come to ALS TDI to ask if they could reveal the donor’s information. After securing the anonymous donor’s permission, we passed it on to Matt. When he heard the name, he couldn’t believe it. It was someone he hadn’t seen for years, but who had a special place in his heart: Elisabeth Stringer Litvin.
“When I was still in the Navy, Army Colonel Elisabeth Stringer Litvin was the best Commander I ever had,” he says. “Much like Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles, Col. Litvin came through at the last minute to defeat Tom Brady and saved me the public embarrassment of having his name shaved into my head. I guess I was really not completely surprised. Col. Litvin has always had a reputation of taking care of her troops.”
In the end, Matt got to express his true feelings for the former Patriot’s quarterback: on a Facebook livestream, he had Brady’s initials shaved into the back of his head, surrounded by a circle with a cross through it, like a “no-smoking” sign.
While it might be too late to get your name shaved into the back of Matt’s head, you can still support Handlebars for Hope by shaving your own mustache, or donating to the campaign, here.