Standing strong: Brian Boatman shares inspiring story of living with ALS

Published 2:59 pm Monday, March 27, 2023

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By LIZZIE BOWEN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Brian Boatman has stood strong after receiving his ALS diagnosis and encourages others daily after remaining rooted in his faith as he walks through the journey of ALS.

On Saturday, March 18 many lined up at Oak Mountain State Park to run a 5K to raise funds as a benefit for Shelby County Board of Education Member Brian Boatman.

Boatman spoke about his physical abilities and activities that he partook in before his official ALS diagnosis. Before the diagnosis, Boatman was an ultra-marathon runner and mountain biker. He spent many years running ultra-marathon trail races around the state, mostly taking part in Oak Mountain State Park.

Boatman was officially diagnosed with ALS in early September of 2022, but he had seen symptoms prior to his diagnosis.

ALS, also known as Gehrig’s Disease is nervous system disease that weakens muscle and impact on physical function.

“Looking back now, I know they are symptoms of ALS,” Boatman said. “At first, it didn’t seem like any other than a minor nuisance. I’m 55 years old, and I started noticing I wasn’t any stronger in the gym when I worked out. I started noticing my right ankle was becoming unstable. I would roll it fairly often, which normally doesn’t happen. When you trail run, you roll your ankles all the time, but I had always had very strong ankles. So, I started noticing a loss of strength.”

Boatman said, he felt the loss of strength was just coming from getting older and at the time, didn’t think it could possibly be ALS.

“In March of 2022, I went to the neurologist for the first time,” Boatman said. “They did some testing. They ruled out Parkinson’s and multiple-sclerosis. During that same time frame, I was busy with my campaign for (the) Shelby County school board.”

Boatman didn’t go through further testing at the time and was continued to symptoms. He noticed problems continuing specifically on the right side of his body.

The primary election occurred in May, and Boatman said it was during this time that when he ran, he began noticing that his right leg would not keep up with his left leg. By summer of last year, Boatman had researched enough to know he would most likely had ALS.

In August, the limp he had been experiencing became so prominent that he was unable to hide it and others began to take notice.

“That’s when my wife was like, ‘You have to do back to the doctor,’’’ Boatman said. “And that’s when I got the diagnosis.”

Boatman received an official diagnosis on September 2, 2022. He said his family and friends were surprised, saddened and devastated to hear the news.

“Just looking at me, even though I was starting to limp, to other people I still looked like I was in great shape,” Boatman said. “For me, I knew this isn’t right, and I could tell I was starting to lose energy. I was losing strength and coordination. It comes with the diseases process. They were very upset, and it took them a couple of months. In many respects, they still are not quite adjusted to it. Because the gravity of the situation is with ALS diagnosis, on average from the time of diagnosis, the survival is usually two to five years.”

Boatman said it is different for every person, and there are different forms of ALS. It is difficult to know what the specific time frame ALS is, and there are many variables.

“It is hard to know the time frame we are operating under,” Boatman said. “But, in the grand scheme, it’s not that far out there.”

Boatman said has been in diligent praying, asking God to make movements in his life, but in the end God had a different plan for him. He was advised by a doctor to go on disability after receiving his diagnosis.

“God has a plan and has taken care of me and my family,” Boatman said.

Boatman said between social security disability and the VA disability given to him due to being a veteran, he was able to provide for his family for the time as well as provide insurance.

“We don’t have worries in that respect,” Boatman said. “That is where we stand right now, but I am continuing my duties with the school board and will do that as long as I can. Because I feel God lead me to that for a reason, and He is also provided me with time to take care of my health, and I can dedicate a time that I need to school board activities as well as doing things with my family to create memories as we are moving along in this process.”

Boatman, a veteran, received a scholarship from the Army to attend college after graduating from high school. After college, he attended flight school at Fort Rucker, became a pilot and got stationed in Germany for three years.

“I always loved flying,” Boatman said. “And I really loved flying at night. I just took to it naturally, I had good navigation skills and orientation in the cockpit. I just enjoyed it. Training and teaching new pilots how to do it as well, I always enjoyed that well. Whether it was flying, trail running or mountain biking, I always enjoyed helping other people who are getting started.”

No matter what he is helping others with, it is clear that Boatman has a servant’s heart and a strong desire to lead and guide others.

“One thing I tell a lot of people about this is, I have been blessed by God beyond measure,” Boatman said. “Even though I have ALS, and this was never in my mind that something like this would happen to me, but my faith is strong enough to understand God has a plan. I’m not prideful enough and I am humble enough to realize that I don’t get to decide when or how I leave this life. None of us do. So, I trust that God has it all worked out, and I know that things will be made right. I will be healed whether it is in this life or the next life. I am confident in that, and I am facing this with that sureness.”