Meet Eric Jurado-Diaz, an Army veteran, dedicated husband, loving father and a pALS—a person with ALS. Eric’s been bucking trends his entire life and continues to break down barriers regardless of his illness.

“Everything I read was how it was a trip to death,” Eric says about his initial research after being diagnosed with ALS. “I decided that I didn’t need that. I didn’t need to keep bombarding my head with all those images. I’m a happy person and want to send the message out that you can still live with ALS.”

You wouldn’t know it by talking to him, but Eric is one of the 15,000 people at any given time in the U.S. living with ALS—with an undeniable emphasis on living.

In an ironic twist of fate, Eric’s ALS story actually began before his diagnosis. The 56-year-old participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, the viral movement that raised funds for, and awareness about ALS, just months prior to receiving word of his disease.

His initial diagnosis came in November 2016, with confirmation of the condition five months later in April, but Eric recalls experiencing symptoms even prior to that year.

The speed at which the disease progresses can vary from person-to-person. Thus far, Eric’s symptoms have progressed slower than average pALS, which has allowed him to extend some semblance of normalcy, especially with his family. Eric and his husband, Luis, have been together for 27 years, and the couple has three adopted children whom they love dearly.

ALS has also been a catalyst for courage, empowering Eric to take part in bold new activities. In fact, it’s literally taken him to heights he had never before reached.

“Skydiving was the first thing,” he says about how he decided to make the most of his time. “People are not afraid of heights—they are afraid of falling from heights, and I was always one of those people. But when I got diagnosed, I said, ‘You know what? I just want to jump out of a plane.’”

That experience, which the devout Christian jokes put him “halfway to Heaven,” was so good that he did it a second time. Eric’s story, including his first skydive jump, has since been featured in a 13-minute documentary called “A Spirit in Flight.”

Despite the fact that Eric has recently transitioned into a wheelchair, he remains as positive as ever about his place in the world and the disease that will eventually take him from it.

“This is what I’ve been teaching people; you have to live for the moment. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow might not ever get here. We have to have fun for as long as we can breathe.”

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