In February of 1999, James was diagnosed with ALS, a rare neurological disease with no known cure. The doctors offered “2-5 years” as a framework for his progression. It was a grim diagnosis for this 36-year-old father of four children. Fortunately, he and his wife Carol leaned into their faith and felt the community rally around them as they made a gameplan for fighting the disease head-on.
“I’ve always tried to look on the positive side of things,” James shared in an interview with AP sportswriter Michael A. Lutz. Carol also shared her optimistic perspective with Lutz during the interview. “We treat James like he is living, not like he is dying. We are all terminal, you know, but we’re going to beat this.”
While Carol managed the Barrett household, 15-year-old Nathan took a job at David Gardner’s Jewelers, for the first time, in the facilities department where he assisted with daily chores and special events. With Nathan under their wing as an employee, the Gardners’ path again became interwoven with the Barretts’ and their friendship grew into the meaningful connection that remains to this day.
David Gardner was honored to support James and his family in a personal way during this time. For several years, David drove James to weekly infusion treatments in Houston.
Those drives were the beginning of a men’s Bible study group, the Renegades. As Julia Gardner shared, the group’s growth was largely due to the Barretts’ testimony of faith during James’s ALS diagnosis. “Seeing men who had never mentioned God before, sitting around the living room, with Bibles opened on their laps, was so powerful. This happened because they saw James and Carol’s courage and hope in the midst of his illness.”