By BILL MOOR
When I recently asked Ara Parseghian if he planned on making it to 100, the Notre Dame coaching legend flashed his steely eyes and said, “Hell, yes.”
Even at age 92, Ara figures he still has a lot of living to do. He may walk with a cane now, but the man who led the Irish to two national football championships and a 95-17-4 record (1964-74) is still up for a battle.
He and his wife Katie, 87, still are involved in the Ara Parseghian Medical Foundation that seeks a cure for Niemann-Pick Disease Type C (NPC), a rare genetic disorder that claimed the lives of three of their grandchildren.
Ara may now shoot for the century mark but he would have gladly traded places with his three grandchildren — Michael, Christa, and Marcia Parseghian — who lived to be just 9, 10 and 16, respectively.
“Sometimes, over the years, when I was in the car and alone with my thoughts, I just wanted to pound the windshield out,” Ara admits.
You may not have heard much about the Hall of Fame coach in recent years but he is still a South Bend resident and still going strong — just not as quickly as he once did.
His story is one of many that are featured in the recently published “Strong of Heart” magazine that was edited by longtime associate athletic director John Heisler and available at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. Profiles on other Notre Dame football coaches, Lou Holtz and Gerry Faust, also are included along with stories on such former Notre Dame legends as Tim Brown, Aaron Taylor and team doctor Les Bodnar.
A note of admission here: I wrote the “Strong of Heart” profiles on Ara and Lou Holtz, coaches whom I had covered as a Tribune sports writer. Really, what a pleasure.
Ara told me that one of his biggest thrills was when Notre Dame formed a partnership with the medical foundation that bears his name. This makes the university’s Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases a wonderful resource.
Two Notre Dame researchers, Paul Helquist and Olaf Wiest, have identified three promising drugs to use against NPC while Greg Crawford, vice president and associate provost at Notre Dame, has raised millions of dollars for the Ara Parseghian Medical Foundation on his several cross-country bicycle trips.
Ara says he is no longer the head coach of this effort, deferring to his daughter-in-law Cindy, the president of the foundation, and the Notre Dame scientists and fundraisers. “I guess I am an assistant coach — or maybe a just a graduate assistant now.”
But Cindy Parseghian is quick to point out: “He has been the heart and soul of our fight from the start. Even at 92, he continues to push the foundation forward. And the deep love that Notre Dame has for Ara has been very important to the cause.”
The fight continues — for the other children afflicted with NPC and in memory of the Parseghians’ three (of seven) grandchildren no longer with us.
Katie Parseghian sits beside her husband and says, “Maybe God put us on earth for this purpose.”
Contact Bill at [email protected].