Former NFL Player Tim Shaw Tackles ALS With Purpose

Former NFL linebacker and special teams captain Tim Shaw, finds peace, purpose and a Heavenly Father’s love amidst his ALS diagnosis.


Article Summary: 
Former NFL linebacker and special teams captain Tim Shaw, finds peace, purpose and a Heavenly Father’s love amidst his ALS diagnosis.

Tim Shaw played football the same way he approaches life: devoted and determined! Tim explains, “Can't be half in; either you're in or you're out. And so be all in! Football was made for me and I was made for it and we had a great run.”

His NFL run ended as a Tennessee Titan after 7 years and four teams. As Special Teams Captain, teammates followed his kamikaze lead. Tim says, “It’s a dead focus. Nothing will keep me from the football. Nothing! Not one guy. Not two. And when I get there, I’m going to disrupt the football. I’m going to separate that man from the football. I miss that!”

Tim was cut before the 2013 season. He retired seven months later on his 30th birthday.  The following month, issues with his muscles led him to the doctor, where a different, destructive opponent emerged. Tim remembers, “I was alone and they did a couple tests and he came back in and he said, ‘Tim, uh, I believe you have ALS.’ And he said, ‘I’d like you to get another opinion, but I believe you have it.’”

What went through his mind? “It was unbelief and just -- wow,” Tim shares, “I thought about my family and just not wanting them to have to go through that.”

Tim waited four months before sharing it publically, saying “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s been survived, but ALS slowly, but surely takes away your functions. And, your nerves and your muscles - ultimately they shut down. It is very feared. But it is not undefeated!”

His online announcement came from the Titans Headquarters. An ice bucket challenge downpour followed as his brotherhood of former teammates stood behind him. Tim describes it as, “Such an amazing feeling to have those guys stand up with me was awesome! I feel a great sense of responsibility to impact this disease for those struggling with it now or in the future. God has really put me here for a purpose. And what an amazing opportunity it is!” 

Tim’s former Titans teammate, Cornerback Jason McCourty says, “Tim was the type of guy you would tell a young guy to go follow. What he’s going through is going to take a ton of mental toughness and he probably learned a lot from this game.” 

Titans Punter Brett Kern adds, “If there’s a guy that’s strong enough, that can battle this and get through it’s Tim. I still miss him now on the field. There’s just something about him.”

Tim’s workouts slow his muscle loss and deteriorating motor skills. He routinely works out, “trying to correct it and focus on going as hard as I can go.” And in these early stages of a physical and mental fight, his athletic and competitive pedigree rises.

Tom Buehring, 700 Club Sports reporter asks Tim, “You at some point have to lower your expectations based on where you came from. How do you accept that?”

“It’s hard. I mean you take the game of golf which I love and the score’s not what it use to be or I don’t hit the ball as far as I used to hit it and as an athlete it keeps me driving to get back to where I used to be whatever little way I can do every day.”

Tom challenges Tim, “Show me how good! C’mon, get out there and show me how good, brother!”

Tim’s inner strength helps him handle the tough adjustments and unanswered questions ALS brings.

Tom asks, “What's most daunting about the uncertainty of what's ahead?”

Tim says, “Understanding that the odds say that I will one day be laying in a bed unable to move a muscle, but fully mentally aware. But God has just shown me that He's got it. He's in control. The Bible says that the Lord determines, you know, what's going to happen to us. I've really come to peace with that. It's the freedom of giving up control. I never had control before a diagnosis. So why would I worry about when I'm going to die, what's going to happen to me? All I can do is live today.”

Tim earned his recognition in stadiums where it not only brought him notoriety, but it also shaped and sustained his name. But just like his career, well being and body, his identity has also been challenged in this transition.

Tim explains, “I've been ‘Tim the football player’ for a long time. When your identity is one thing and it's taken away, then you don't know who you are. Ultimately I found my identity in being just a child of God. Although my identity has shifted, it's really just become more solid. I know who I am and I know that God's created me. And so ALS doesn't define me.”

His childlike resilience and ironclad strength sustains him for a fight that also requires surrender. Tim says, “We all have unanswered questions. I’m not God. There’s some things that we will not understand! Ever! But I know this - God uses any circumstance in my life. It’s a mystery. It’s a puzzle. It’s not want I want, but its mine! It’s my privilege to walk this out.

Like in footsteps that recently walked in Brazil on a mission trip with his dad, drilling wells in distant places that bring him close, meaningful gestures of love and support.

Tim recalls, “A 13-year-old Brazilian girl in the middle of the Amazon jungle telling me that she's been praying for me for three months and that she doesn't want anything bad to happen to me. Being prayed for in a church with no walls in four different languages. That’s God saying, ‘I love you to the fullest and I had to bring you all the way out into the middle of the jungle to show you that.’ God shifts your perspective that would never be shifted if you didn't step out in that uncomfortable space.”

Tim Shaw -- tackler extraordinaire, who grips disease as he fights for life -- while fully living it. Tim emphatically believes, “It's that relationship. It’s that belief that a God can love you despite every sickness in my body and every sin that I've ever committed, He loves me anyway. And that’s what God is to me, man. He wipes my garbage away.  He takes my ALS and He holds it in His hand and He says, "Tim, I got you. I got you to the fullest. There's so many good things that He's done. Don't curse Him in the bad times.  He's there. He's there.”

About the Author