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'He Touched a Lot of People'

Ex-Lobo Standout Dies from Disease

Pat Grange had a way with the soccer ball, a touch so deft that he was known to leave spectators in awe.

Pat Grange in March 2011. (Journal File)

He had a way with coaching, a passion for the sport that he successfully imparted to many of his young charges.

But most of all, Grange — a former Lobo soccer player who died Tuesday at age 29 — had a way with people.

Despite a quiet and laid-back demeanor, friends and family credit Grange’s magnetism for the wellspring of support he received in the wake of his 2010 diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Friends, former teammates and even strangers rallied behind Grange as he faced a disease with no known cure.

“He touched a lot of people,” Lobo men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein said of Grange, who played for UNM in 2003 and 2004. “He was just a happy guy. Everybody always felt better around him, and he always brought joy to the room. He was a positive person, somebody you want to be around.”

Grange made friends easily and often while growing up in Albuquerque and during a college career that started at the University of Illinois-Chicago and concluded at UNM. His mother, Michele Grange, said he even managed to forge lifelong bonds while chasing his professional soccer dream in London, and that’s despite the fact he lived in England for only three months.

“People seemed to gravitate to him,” Michele Grange said. “People wanted to be around Pat and wanted him to be their friend.”

The youngest of three boys, Pat Grange took to sports early in life. His first word, Michele said, was “ball,” and he played a multitude of youth sports, including baseball and basketball.

But Grange devoted himself fully to soccer at Albuquerque High, where he and brother Ryan helped get the Bulldogs into the 1998 state final.

After graduating from Albuquerque High in 2001, Grange headed to UIC, where he played for two years before transferring to UNM. Former UNM teammate Brandon Moss — now a New Mexico assistant — still remembers Grange’s impressive showing during the 2004 postseason. Grange scored three goals during that year’s NCAA Tournament, helping lead the Lobos into the third round of the tournament for the first time in school history.

“He made everything look so effortless,” Moss said. “He seemed to glide across the field and was able to do things nobody else could do.”

After UNM, Grange played with the Albuquerque Asylum, a semi-pro team, and eventually made his way to coaching. Gabe Nosseir, who owns the International Indoor Soccer Arena in Albuquerque and had known Grange for about 15 years, said Grange had a special knack for working with kids in the Lil’ Kickers program. The players responded both to Grange’s cool-guy mystique and his soccer skills.

“Kids wanted to be like (Pat),” he said. “He was an amazing player, a role model for a lot of young children. I’m not sure he even realized (his impact), but that’s what happened.”

Even as his ALS progressed — gradually paralyzing his body but leaving his mind intact — Michele Grange said her son tried to continue doing the things he enjoyed, whether it was going to the movies with girlfriend Amanda Aragon or attending soccer games. He even watched the Lobos play in their conference tournament last fall in Denver.

Michele said her son, shy by nature, came out of his shell the past 16 months. He did media interviews and more public appearances despite his declining speech in the hopes that he could increase awareness of ALS.

The disease normally strikes people twice Grange’s age, and a diagnosis usually comes with a life expectancy of two to five years. Grange, who was followed for a time by a crew from ESPN, eventually may be featured in a documentary on athletes with the disease, Michele said.

“He really had this mission to get ALS awareness out there,” she said.

Grange is survived by his parents, Michele and Mike, older brothers Casey and Ryan, girlfriend Amanda Aragon, and an extended network of family and friends.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal