Tempe Martial Arts Teacher Bans Workers from Ice Bucket Challenge Over Health Concerns

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised millions of dollars for the ALS Association, but some people question whether it's safe.

One local teacher/business owner has banned her employees from participating after one of her students experienced adverse health effects following the challenge.

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The premise of the challenge is simple: If a friend nominates you to participate, you must upload a video of yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, donate $10 to the ALS Association, and then nominate a new batch of participants. If you decide not to participate, you are supposed to instead donate $100 to the cause.

The ALS Association works to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, through research, direct assistance to those suffering from the neurological disorder, and advocacy efforts.

So far, the challenge has been highly effective. Celebrities, politicians, and athletes have posted their videos online, and the association has raised $41.8 million dollars so far from the campaign, compared to just $2.1 million during the same time period last year.

But some aren't so sure the challenge is the best way for the ALS Association to raise funds.

Some express a distaste for such 'hashtag activism,' viewing it as a showy version of charity that's actually premised on avoiding having to donate a considerable sum of money. Some decry the waste of good drinking water. And some wonder about potential health risks.

Michelle Landgren Lee, a seventh degree black belt and the head martial arts instructor at Lee's ATA Martial Arts in Tempe, says she has banned her 60 employees from participation in the challenge after one of her students apparently suffered adverse effects.

After a difficult kickboxing class, Lee says, her student got into her hot car, went to meet up with some friends, and ended up unexpectedly participating in the challenge. Lee arrived ten minutes behind her student and was troubled by what she saw. Her student didn't look well. She seemed almost drunk, Lee says, and was slurring her words. Half of her face had drooped. Lee says the student had suffered from a nervous system disorder in the past, and she wonders if the Ice Bucket Challenge exacerbated the issue.

"She wasn't even completely cognating my conversation with her," Lee says. Her student ended up going to bed that night and sleeping for an entire day, Lee says, adding that she heard it took her through the weekend to finally feel normal again.

There are other accounts online of adverse reactions to the challenge, though it's hard to say whether the ice water is causing health problems, exacerbating pre-existing conditions, or completely unrelated to the problems being described.

At least one health risk is clear: the potential to be hit in the face or head with a heavy bucket accidentally tossed along with the ice water. Just search for "Ice Bucket Challenge fails" to find countless examples.

Lee says her student never saw a doctor, so it isn't clear just what went wrong in her case. But Lee isn't taking any risks. She released a memo to her employees banning them from participation in the challenge. Throwing a bucket of ice over one's head just doesn't sit right with her.

She suggests they find a safer way to get involved in the cause. "I'm into fun," she says. "We can do something fun as a fundraiser for this organization. I said I'd even be fine if they stand in the ice. That's not your brain."

But Lee and other doubters may be in the minority. As of Aug. 21, the Ice Bucket Challenge had brought 739,275 new donors to the ALS Association.

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Ashley Cusick
Contact: Ashley Cusick