Never give up: Assistant chief at JSO battles Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Jimmy Judge and Larry Gayle with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office talk more about Judge's battle with ALS.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jimmy Judge stepped behind the barbell. He squatted, he grunted and he lifted. He’s not as strong as he once was, but this veteran lawman impressed fellow gym members by deadlifting 225 pounds. Again and again.

In his 30 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Judge has never stepped away from a challenge. It’s what helped him get promoted to assistant chief.

But last year he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He went to doctors after having problems loading his gun at the practice range. His hand control went first. Then his speech started to slip.

“I didn’t believe it,” Judge said. “At that point, I still felt really strong. I still felt great. So I went to Johns Hopkins and got in confirmed.”

Besides being a police officer, a husband and a father, Judge has been an athlete. He’s competed as a bodybuilder, practiced martial arts and is an avid runner. But the disease is taking all that away.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, according to the ALS Association. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. “A” means no. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment: “No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

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Judge is having issues breathing and speaking. As of now, there’s no cure or chance of recovery from ALS, although researchers are trying to slow the progression of the illness.

“I really don’t have a choice but to fight it,” Judge said. “I have a 17-year-old son. I have to stay strong and stay positive and imprint on him. I get up every day and put my blues on and go to work, come home, put my gym clothes on and go to the gym. I think it’s important seeing me trying and fighting and working hard.”

Judge, a charismatic and popular first responder, has seen an incredible outpouring of support.

“I sat in front of Sheriff (Mike) Williams and I told him and he didn’t blink,” Judge said. “He said whatever you need, we’ve got you. I’ve got a great support system, surrounded by friends and family.

While insurance covers his treatment, his long-time friend Larry Gayle said it does not cover the travel expenses, like flights to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or hotels. Several JSO colleagues and community partners are teaming up with River City Brewing Company to host a fundraiser to ease the burden on Judge’s wife, Shannon, and their children.

SIGN UP TO HELP: Jimmy Judge fundraiser

The event is at the riverfront restaurant on Sunday, Feb. 28 from 4-8 p.m. It includes a live band, open bar, silent auction and heavy hors d ‘Oeuvres. Tickets are $75 with 100% of sales going to his family. Those who can’t attend can also make donations on the website.