Feature Story: Crimson Tide fan with rare disease keeps ‘rolling on’

COCHRAN, GEORGIA: When you say the name Bill Baldwin four things come to mind– great guy, husband of Kathy, father of Ellie and probably one of the few vocal Alabama Crimson Tide fans in Cochran.

Yes, he wears his crimson proudly among the sea of red and black during football season. And why shouldn’t he? Bill was born and raised in Andalusia, Alabama, located in the “heart of south Alabama.”

His loyalty to the Tide has never changed either – even when his Georgia pals give him “what for” during the fall.

Bill’s love of sports and his loyalty to his teams spilled over to his current hometown’s high school athletic teams, the Bleckley County High School Royals. He wears the purple and gold for the Royals proudly, and for seven years, Bill wrote sports for The Cochran Journal.

The Baldwins have always been active in the community and supportive of the schools and their church. Wife Kathy worked with the local county extension office, and daughter, Ellie, graduated from Bleckley County High School. She is now an elementary school teacher in north Georgia. Bill worked at the Robins Air Force Base until his retirement.

Known for his determination, drive and humbleness, Bill is a very popular fellow among his friends and in the community of Cochran.

Around 20 years ago, somethings changed for Bill, who is now in his 60s. “My shoes really wore out weirdly,” he told the Murphy Gazette through an interview on Facebook messenger. “Sometimes, I’d hear about folks thinking I was drunk when I had not been drinking.”

He continued, “I had an old friend who is a doctor see me at a party. He told Kathy I needed to get checked out.” Bill said he had always been a little awkward and clumsy.

Bill recently shared his story on the blog, “Our Lives With Ataxia Along For The Ride,” where he revealed much of the information he shared with The Murph. In fact, it was the blog that brought Bill’s story to light. Click here for a link to it.

At the doctor’s office, he was diagnosed with ‘cerebellar degeneration.’ “My first diagnosis of ‘cerebellar degeneration came from a neurologist in a nearby city who I was very displeased with.” Bill said he got his primary care doctor at the time to refer him to Emory in Atlanta “where they made the general diagnosis of ataxia.”

Bill said that “ataxia is very rare. There are about 150,000 cases in the United States.”

Ataxia, according to a description from The Mayo Clinic, describes “a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects. Ataxia can affect various movement creating difficulties with speech, eye movement and swallowing. Many conditions can cause ataxia from certain medications to stroke to brain degeneration and genetics.”

On a website page, from The Mayo Clinic, it was revealed that “treatment for ataxia depends on the cause … adaptive devices could help with maintaining independence, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and regular aerobic exercise also might help.”

According to Bill, most of his activities didn’t change when he was first diagnosed. He explained that he still worked, drove, sang, read, and even rode “my bicycle.”

With aging though, he said “things have changed.”

Bill doesn’t stop though. He goes to the local gym several days a week. He stretches and spends time on the rowing machine and stair stepper. He watches his weight as well. “I feel like the exercise and the fact that I watch my weight combined have helped keep me ambulatory.” He also still sings though he has noticed a difference in his enunciation.

Living with ataxia has not been easy, but Bill is learning. In the blog mentioned in previous paragraphs, he stated that he has had to learn to put aside his pride in the interest of being safe. Though he had a hard time “with starting to use a cane a few years ago and an even harder time transitioning to a rollator year before last,” Bill realized the alternatives were worse – falls and the consequences of falls.

“I keep trying to do what I am able to do while at the same time being realistic about what I can’t,” Bill stated. “I can help unload the car when my wife gets home from the grocery store, but I can’t do a lot to help people move furniture.”

A friend of the Baldwins, Cheryl Little, said, “Bill is not one to want recognition. He has never wanted to be overpowered by well-meaning people trying to help. I think he is a great example to others who need to remember that being physically disabled doesn’t take away the mind of the ability to do other things.”

To conclude his interview with the Murphy Gazette, Bill was asked how he remains so positive. He wrote, “I guess positivity comes from accepting what you can’t change and doing the best you can.”

The great Alabama football coach, the late Paul “Bear” Bryant couldn’t have said it better himself.

Roll, Tide, Roll and Keep Inspiring, Bill, Keep Inspiring!


Photo Credit -Bill Baldwin/Facebook (Bill Baldwin with his wife, Kathy and daughter, Ellie, at First United Methodist Church in Cochran in April 2019.)

Author: rlhwrites

Curator of prose and such.