Monday, August 25, 2014

The World's Strongest Man. And He Has ALS.

It would be virtually impossible to be living in America and have no clue about the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has inundated social media. It's the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Yet how many of us actually personally know people afflicted with "Lou Gehrig's Disease," as it's commonly known? What sort of interaction have you had with someone with ALS?

One of the most remarkable men I've ever met and spent time with is very likely nearing the end of his life in the unrelenting grip of ALS. His name is Jay Tolar, a man affectionately known in the Sabo household, and very likely many other households, as "Coach Jay."

In July 2010, my family traveled to Serving In Mission headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., for three weeks of missions training. For two of those weeks, Coach Jay spent time with my older children pouring into them a legacy that will likely span generations. It's a tribute to him that four years later his wisdom, his attitude, his grace and perseverance continues to have a profound effect on my children who had the privilege and honor to spend many hours a day with him. All of us got to know him and his wife Heidi and children Jake and Julie.

Coach Jay had been an SIM missionary serving in Nigeria, where he was born to missionary parents. A big strapping, athletic man at 6-foot-4, Coach Jay's body has betrayed him and is deteriorating. He is now confined to a wheelchair requiring everything to be done for him and I've received emails that indicate the ravages of ALS may be nearing an end.

I spoke and texted with my son Ethan, now 21, about Coach Jay earlier today.  Ethan told me that Coach Jay was amazing in how he was handling his diagnosis of ALS. There was no self-pity, no woe is me, no signs of depression from Coach Jay.

Coach Jay's faith and trust in God and God's plans was undeterred. He was a steady, immovable rock on sands that were shifting ever so mightily beneath him.

Ethan said that the best marriage talk he's ever heard came from Coach Jay. I asked him what it was about the talk that was so good.

"Just about treating your wife with honor and love in all situations and that in turn she will respect and submit to you," Ethan wrote. "About what it means to be a husband, laying down your wants and needs for your wife and family."

Here's how Taylor, now 22, summed up Coach Jay in an email: "What can I say about Coach? I only spent two weeks with him, but those two weeks will ripple through the rest of my life. He did so much more than teach me how to walk with God, to be a strong leader, a loving husband, a compassionate father, an inspiring coach, a man after God's heart. He exemplified it.

"He taught me that being a man isn't about killing, it's about dying. He taught me that every day men are called to die to their flesh, their desires, their needs, and put their wives, their children, their friends' needs before their own. He showed the beauty of hoping in Christ and the power of faith in Christ. I hope that, one day, I can become half the man that he is. To Coach, who always reflected his Savior, and now will know Him just as he also is known."

Taylor added a passage from Scripture: "Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." --Philippians 3:8-11.

I can't accurately convey how humbled and honored we are as a family to have spent time with Coach Jay. I know he will soon hear the words we all hope to hear from our Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Here's a video produced by the SIM media team on Coach Jay. God bless you Jay. We love you and look forward to a heavenly reunion with you.

Jay Tolar video


  1. Thanks for posting this Matt. It's a great reminder of the REAL reality of our lives and inspiring, to be mild.

    It's been great to connect with you.

    1. Thanks Bryan. God bless you brother.