Nobody enjoys the beach more than Josh Thompson. He was an avid surfer. He loved taking his family to the beach. He grew up on the beach and thought he'd be riding his board for years to come. But in late 2006, Josh was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Josh had to turn his attention from riding waves to fighting ALS, a battle few so young have to face.
The fight has been one of frustration. Frustration with barriers to drug access, with as yet unsuccessful experimental treatments and with the lack of a cure. But rather than let their frustration turn to bitterness, Josh and his family have converted their frustration to a massive mobilization for the search for treatments and eventually a cure.
In 2007, a group of young men that had been raised together in Virginia Beach decided they wanted to find a way to give something back to the community and formed the Virginia Gentlemen Foundation. When Chris Thompson, a founding member, received news that his brother, Josh, was diagnosed with ALS, The Virginia Gentlemen decided to make the fight against ALS their goal as well. Working with the local ALSA chapter their first initiative, named "The Keys to Life Program" helped patients with transportation to and from medical appointments, but it didn't stop there.
In 2008, the Virginia Gentlemen partnered with ALSA in the local Walk. This annual walk, previously held at The Botanical Gardens, was moved to the oceanfront boardwalk to accommodate the expected attendance. What started out as one team in the Hampton Roads ALS walk became the National ALS Association’s largest single day walk and fundraiser. To date the JT Walk has raised over $7 million for ALS research and patient services, as well as community projects such as JT’s Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground for EveryBODY, the "Grombulance" kid-friendly medical transport for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, and early development of JT's Camp Grom.
Over the last 6 years more than 30,000 people have gathered at the Virginia Beach oceanfront to participate in what is now known as the JT Walk & Beach Party. This year promises an even bigger turnout.