MDA Show of Strength Telethon

Two-hour show on ABC carries messages of hope and urgency to a broad audience, as the MDA telethon completes its 48th Labor Day weekend broadcast

Spectacular closing moments of the telethon, featuring Chris Mann and Jessica Sanchez.
Article Highlights:
  • The MDA Show of Strength Telethon, which aired Sept. 1 on ABC stations nationwide, raised $59,583,555 for MDA’s research and services programs.
  • A host of celebrity performers and presenters showcased the real stars of the show — members of the MDA community.
  • The show provided an opportunity to thank MDA’s national sponsors, who tirelessly support research, camp and other services for people affected by neuromuscular disease.
by Quest Staff on October 3, 2013 - 9:16am

Quest Vol. 20, No. 4

Although it was broadcast as usual on Labor Day weekend, the 48th annual telethon was anything but usual. For the first time in its history, the show was carried exclusively by one national network — ABC — a move that resulted in the best viewership in decades and was double last year’s show.

Photos (from top): Paula Abdul with Wisconsin MDA Goodwill Ambassador Reagan Imhoff; the Backstreet Boys; country performer Luke Bryan; MDA National Task Force Member Angela Wrigglesworth with Lee Ann Womack; and “Glee” star Matthew Morrison;

The final tote of $59.6 million — also larger than last year’s — represents a combination of the donations received during the telethon and the support raised by MDA national partners who were recognized on the show. (This is the same formula used for many years on the telethon.)

“We are deeply grateful to the American public and our family of sponsors,” said Steven M. Derks at the close of his first telethon as MDA president and CEO. “The response to our families’ compelling and inspirational stories and our request to keep the momentum going is humbling.” 

The funds enable MDA to provide clinics, camp and services to families fighting muscle disease; fund first-rate science that can lead to new treatments; and rally communities to continue to raise awareness of muscle disease.

Derks also took a moment to remember the man who made “telethon” a household word. 

“Where would MDA and the fight against muscle diseases be without the amazing Jerry Lewis? Certainly, we would not be at this hopeful spot. He — and all of our sponsors, and thousands of celebrities, as well as millions of generous Americans who said ‘yes’ to him — brought our fight into America’s living rooms.”

On with the show

The 2013 telethon featured a star-studded celebrity lineup, including: Ryan Seacrest; Backstreet Boys; country stars Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker and Lee Ann Womack; Enrique Iglesias; teenage pop sensation Austin Mahone; “Glee” star Matthew Morrison; Paula Abdul; hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez; “American Idol” runner-up Jessica Sanchez; Kenny Loggins with the Blue Sky Riders; American blues rock band Vintage Trouble; and Universal recording artist and star from “The Voice” Chris Mann. 

Also donating their talents were ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser; “Dancing with the Stars” contestant and “Brady Bunch” mom Florence Henderson; Emmy award-winning journalist Jann Carl; Olympic gold medal gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner; and No Doubt drummer Adrian Young and his son, Mason.

MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador Bryson Foster, 13, from Concord, N.C., opened the broadcast, introduced some of the show’s biggest acts and made several additional appearances throughout the show alongside co-announcer Shawn Parr.

Our amazing sponsors

The telethon is MDA’s chance to send a prime-time “thank you” to its dedicated cadre of sponsors and spotlight the good work they make possible through fundraising.

Substantial support was provided to the telethon by MDA’s family of national and regional partners, including Acosta Sales & Marketing, Burger King, CITGO Petroleum Corp., ClubCorp., CST Brands, Harley-Davidson, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Jiffy Lube, Lowe’s, National Association of Letter Carriers, The Safeway Foundation, Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America, 7-Eleven and 7UP.

The work of local MDA sponsors and volunteers also was highlighted at 100 telethon “premiere parties” held nationwide in advance of the show on Sept. 1. Replacing the local telethon segments that used to run on the show, these parties brought together thousands of members of the MDA community for a lively evening that included a preview of the show and recognition of local supporters.

Stories of strength

At the heart of the telethon were profiles of individuals from the MDA community. In addition to raising public awareness of muscle disease, the profiles highlighted the rapid progress being made in neuromuscular research and health care today.

Identical twins Nolan and Jack Willis, 11, from Fayetteville, N.Y., have Duchenne muscular dystrophy and are taking part in the encouraging clinical trial of the exon-skipping drug eteplirsen.

Cooper Somers, a Houston 3-year-old battling the life-threatening disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and his dedicated mother have carried on together after Cooper’s dad was killed in a car accident.

Reagan Imhoff, an 8-year-old from suburban Milwaukee who has SMA, is pursuing her passion for dance in her power wheelchair. (Reagan was featured in a dance performance on the 2012 MDA Show of Strength broadcast.)

India Peters, 21, an adventurous young lady from Oxon Hill, Md., discussed her transition into adulthood while dealing with progressive muscle weakness from facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD).

Juan Morales, a 28-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Fla., who has SMA, told how he uses his own experiences and his master’s degree in psychology to counsel others.

Ben Thomas, 32, from St. George, Utah, shared his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and the strength he draws from his loving wife, Jena, and 3-year-old daughter, Emmerson.

Perhaps Jena Thomas best summed up what telethon 2013 means to the MDA community when she told viewers after the airing of the profile of her husband Ben: “ALS is a devastating disease. It’s taken so much from Ben and I over these past three years. But thanks to your generous contributions and the MDA, it can never take away our hope.”

To learn more about the 2013 MDA Show of Strength Telethon, be sure to visit to see classic "memorable moments" from past telethons; exclusive behind-the-scenes footage; “Make a Muscle” photos sent in by folks around the country; videos of the “stories of strength,” performances and sponsor spots; and much more.


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