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Boyz rally 'round gravely ill Shelton in hour of need

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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WILLEMSTAD, Curacao — For sure, Luton Shelton is not alone in his hour of need.

Not only does the former Reggae Boyz striker have the people of Jamaica in his corner, but his true brothers in arms — his fellow footballers.

The Boyz go into today's Concacaf Nations League game here against Bonaire focused on a big victory, but they will, by their own admission, carry a deep thought for their ill comrade in their hearts.

They have, it seems, given new meaning to the debilitating disease that has struck the former Harbour View FC man — All (for) Luton Shelton (ALS).

Shelton, 32, has found himself in one of the greatest battles of his life, coming face to face with the rare but chronic disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There are two types of ALS — sporadic and familial. Sporadic, which is the most common form of the disease in the US, accounts for 90 to 95 per cent of all cases and may affect anyone, anywhere.

Familial ALS (FALS) accounts for five to 10 per cent of all cases in the US. Familial ALS means the disease is inherited. In those families, there is a 50 per cent chance each offspring will inherit the gene mutation and may develop the disease.

Whatever the cause or reason Shelton has the disease matters little to those who are heartbroken by his predicament.

Some of them are his former Boyz teammates who know it's a time to pray, hope and act.

“I really don't have the words right now to explain the pain I am feeling... I remember when I came to the national team as a young player and I wasn't really a talkative guy, and it was Luton, who was playing in England at the time, who would come around me saying that I should express myself more,” recalled Je-Vaughn Watson, Jamaica midfielder.

“I loved playing with him and he loved playing with me, and then we got that bond and then he and I became very close... and now the spot he is in right now just tears me up. As you know, my mom is a pastor and I have her and everybody else praying for him,” said Watson, who is in Curacao as part of Jamaica's team to face Bonaire.

“At the age he is right now, he still had a lot to give to the country, and we can only hope that he recovers. As players and as a team we will do everything we can do to help,” said the Charlotte Independence man.

Team captain Andre Blake disclosed that the players are working on a plan to give whatever support is necessary to help their “friend and brother”.

“It's a very sad moment for us and a very unfortunate situation for Luton... right now we are trying to put something in place as a team to make a contribution, which will definitely materialise.

“It's a tough situation for someone who has done a lot for the country, and it goes to show that it could have been anyone of us, so we have to rally around him,” said the Philadelphia Union goaltender.

Darren Mattocks, who was also a teammate of Shelton, said “it's a very disheartening situation for anyone”.

“Luton is so young and he still could be playing football at the highest level, but unfortunately this disease just came on him so suddenly. It's tough, don't matter how you look at it.

“But trust me, nothing beats prayer, and when you put God first, he will deliver the miracle; and he can do it for anyone, and I know he can do it for Luton,” said the DC United striker, the leading scorer for his club this season with 10 goals.

Louisville City FC leftback Shaun Francis, who played alongside and against Shelton over the years, was visibly moved by his friend's tragic situation.

“Overall, it is a very sad situation, and I know Luton from when we were going to prep school as we played against each other, and even played against each in high school... and to see Luton, who is such an outgoing person and is so much fun to be around, and now to see him a shell of himself, is heartbreaking.

“I was watching the interview about him, and it was so difficult to watch that I could not watch all of it... but as players and as a team, we are trying to do the best we can to help him,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

Boyz central defender Damion Lowe recounted the start of his friendship with Shelton, who is Jamaica's all-time scorer with 35 goals.

“First of all, Luton and I are really close. We trained together in Minnesota (United) for a couple months while I was there, and plus he was my roommate for a month in Florida during preseason, so I got to bond with him from there.

“I was aware he wasn't well for some time, but I was not aware of the type of illness it was until now. But it's all sad and I would not wish that on my worst enemy... everybody knows that Luton is a very vibrant guy and very athletic and full of energy, and all of a sudden, to see him going down shows that life can be a crazy thing,” noted the IK Start player of the Norwegian Premier League.

— Sean Williams

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