Pulling Through

Beloved trainer Tom Ford refuses to be sidelined by ALS

Oakland University athletics trainer Tom Ford stands in front of orange water coolers in a water training room


icon of a calendarNovember 15, 2017

icon of a pencilBy Jacquelyn Goetz Bluethmann

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In his three decades at Oakland University, Tom Ford — or “T. Ford” as he’s referred to in the University’s Athletics Department — has taken on many roles to support student athletes. But by far, his most impactful role has been that of a friend.

“He has always been a sounding board for the athletes,” says Greg Kampe, OU’s head coach of the Golden Grizzlies and Ford’s longtime friend. “He transcended the sport itself. He has been someone the students have always been able to open up to.”

Ford’s mark on the lives of so many has been nowhere better evidenced than in the outpouring of support for him upon his recent diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The devastating diagnosis forced Ford to take a step back from his professional responsibilities this past spring so he can focus on his health. That’s no easy feat for a man who has been known to work sometimes 100-hour weeks during the season.

“I was so winded and out of breath,” says Ford. He noticed changes to his health after running to help a player during a women’s soccer match last fall. “I remember thinking it’s a good thing she doesn’t need to be carried off because she might need to carry me off.”


A native of New Hampshire, Ford first arrived on campus as the University’s only athletic trainer in December 1987 after stints with the Dallas Cowboys, a Houston high school boasting five football teams, and the Marquette, Michigan, Olympic Training Center. It was the latter assignment that sold him on life in the Great Lakes state. “While in Marquette, I experienced so much daylight in the summer,” Ford notes. “You’ve got sunlight until 10 p.m. here. More daylight means you can get more accomplished. Marquette sold me on Michigan.” And in true Ford fashion, he’s determined not to let an ALS diagnosis slow him down.

Out on sick leave, he is no longer in the training room daily. But he hasn’t given up on visiting the school and the people with whom he has cared for and worked with for so long. He tries to make it on to campus weekly.

“As much as I can, I will be there,” he says. “Prop me up in a corner if you have to.”

This dedication is unsurprising to Kampe, who says, “Tom’s legacy to our student-athletes is that he has been the one person through their four to five years at OU that they could always count on.” And he still is.

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