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Originally published June 6, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Page modified June 7, 2013 at 11:46 AM

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Melissa Erickson, ex-UW player, dies of ALS

Seattle Times staff reporter

Melissa Erickson, a former Washington women’s basketball player, died Wednesday after a seven-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She was 34.

ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is no known cure.

Once Erickson lost her ability to communicate, she made the decision to be sedated, according to close friends. She passed peacefully surrounded by family and friends.

“She’s an incredibly strong individual and very loving of all of her friends and family,” Cheryl Sorenson, a former UW teammate of Erickson’s and current University of Portland assistant coach, said on Thursday. “It was an honor to be with her last night and some of our close friends to be able to celebrate her, let her know it was OK. She didn’t have to fight anymore. Something better is waiting for her.”

Friends gathered at Jabu’s Pub late Wednesday to celebrate Erickson’s life. The bar was part of the Melissa Erickson Foundation’s annual summer pub crawl to help raise money for her medical expenses and awareness for ALS.

Sarah Duncan, a former teammate and the foundation’s co-founder, is uncertain what will happen to the charity. But a fifth pub crawl is planned Aug. 24.

More information will be provided soon regarding a public memorial next week.

“She kept saying, ‘no tears, no tears,’” Duncan said. “Having a beer at Jabu’s is exactly what she would have wanted because she would have been right there with us.”

Erickson was 27 when she was diagnosed with ALS in 2006. Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70.

But she never wanted to be remembered as the former player who had ALS. Her passion for life, welcoming spirit and love of basketball overrode the disease.

“To see a smile on her face every time you’d go visit her, all of us would shake our head and go, ‘We would have given up a long time ago,’ ” Duncan said. “Melissa was adamant that she was going to continue to fight this thing. It’s amazing, her spirit and her attitude and diligence to keep going forward. It was a little bit of denial, but Melissa is stubborn. No one is going to tell her what to do.”

Erickson played basketball the same way. A Husky from 1997 to 2001, Erickson’s No. 4 jersey was synonymous with grit. A 6-foot-2 reserve forward who appeared in 92 games, she tore her ACL her senior season but remained an integral part of the team on the bench as the Huskies won the Pac-10 championship and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.

After graduating with a degree in sociology, Erickson was a basketball-operations assistant at UNLV and played professionally in Germany and Portugal before being diagnosed with ALS.

“You’re not supposed to bury your players,” said Shimmy Gray-Miller, a UW assistant coach during Erickson’s career and a current assistant at Nebraska. “But she fought until the very end. She raised awareness. She lived her life.”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.

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