Pat Quinn Talks Yonkers Ice Bucket Challenge and Conquering Cynics

The Westchester resident and worldwide ALS-fundraiser’s co-founder tells us why people should participate this weekend and where the movement goes next

Just last week, the discovery of a gene directly linked to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, affirmed the efforts of Ice Bucket Challenge supporters worldwide, and at just the right time. This coming Sunday, the fundraiser’s co-founder and Yonkers resident Pat Quinn–who himself was diagnosed with the disease in 2013–is hoping to pack the grounds of Empire City Casino at 11 am and break the U.S. record for the largest Ice Bucket gathering yet. (Those interested in registering are urged to do so via 

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The 2015 event drew more than 500 participants, and in light of the aforementioned research breakthrough, Quinn expects this year’s third-annual Yonkers Challenge to pack an even larger punch. Donations will benefit Quinn’s namesake Quinn for the Win nonprofit, which supports the work of like-minded organizations like the ALS Association. We spoke with Quinn earlier today to get a sense of how they’re going to pull this weekend’s endeavor off, disproving the cynics, and how to keep up the fight.


How do you plan on dousing hundreds of people with ice water on Sunday?
Thanks to Home Depot and Empire State Casino, we have the buckets donated, and the casino is giving us the track-side area. We’re going to set it up all there with free family friendly activities. It’s becoming a real event to look forward to. There will be a bunch of different things to do: a DJ with music, and also a few speakers right before we do the ice buckets. Everyone will dump water on themselves; it’ll be a great visual.


How has the discovery of the NEK1 gene affected both supporters and cynics?
It’s what you need to keep hope alive. When you discover a gene, you have a new target. So now we can attack this specific target instead of just going for anything. With something as big as this, there’s always going to be someone that finds something wrong with it, but the proof is in the pudding. When that kind of money comes, real research gets done, and the proof is the breakthrough.

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How has Westchester shown its support?
It’s incredible to know that Westchester was the first county to get involved in the whole world. It went from Pelham to Yonkers and then worldwide. We try and do as many fundraising and awareness events as we can, and Yonkers especially for me has been incredibly helpful and supportive. We’ve had events on McLean Avenue and at Rory Dolan’s. Mayor Mike Spano and City Council President William McLaughlin have been very vocal in supporting me, and when you have real support it gives you the energy and inspiration to make a difference. I think we’re on the right path.


What can Westchester do to continue pushing the cause forward?
I try to do everything I can with “Quinn for the Win,” having events in the county all the time, but there are ALS patients all throughout the county, and the disease is very difficult. It takes people’s physical abilities away, so I would say either fund the ALS Association or reach out to actual patients. They can always use that extra hand. The disease has really taken a hold of my physical abilities, so over the last month or two, I’m wondering how much help I’m going to need. An extra hand, food, a ride. I mean, there’s so much people can do.


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Do you think that the Ice Bucket Challenge could have been this successful for any cause?
I think it was the right time for the right disease. ALS really was unknown; not many people ever talked about it. All you ever really heard about was Lou Gehrig. And that summer in 2014, there was really no big world-wide news, so we were able to grab the media, and I think our network and the network in Boston really got lucky when celebrities started getting onboard. 


Did social media turn out to be the final piece of the puzzle? 
Without Facebook, it probably would have never really happened. The way you can get a video up immediately and people can react to it in seconds made the difference.


What should someone’s biggest takeaway be from the concrete success of the Ice Bucket Challenge?
There’s always a way. You just have to figure it out. And when you have a passion for your fight or to help people, you will figure it out. There’s no one answer, but I really believe because I was proactive and we were out there networking and doing everything we could beforehand, we were in the right spot to really make it bigger.

Last year’s Yonkers Ice Bucket Challenge fundraiser drew more than 500 people in attendance.

Photo: Sean Hamrock

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