Satiated — having just dined on the world’s most impeccable brisket smoked by buddy Greg Smith — Alice and Mike Laussade lolled in their Lake Highlands living room and devised a plot to procure more of this beguiling beef.
The Laussades can cook, Alice says, but barbecue is different. Smoking meat is tedious and exacting business.
“What if,” Alice posed, “we could get them to make it for us and bring it to our house?”
This sort of audaciousness — this no-boundaries imagination — is why Alice shines so brightly as a writer and humorist (you might recall the Dallas Observer’s “Cheap Bastard” column — that’s her).
Also, she was “brisket high” when she floated the idea, she has said. Propelled by the beef buzz, the couple contrived the backyard cookout-competition concept: friends would come bearing meat, smoke it to perfection and battle for best-barbecue bragging rights. Judges, guests and hosts would consume the entries. “We just needed a few things to lure them, like prizes and a cool name,” Alice says. “Oh, and, a lot of beer.”
Thus, in 2009, the Laussades conceived Meat Fight, now one of the country’s largest fundraisers for multiple sclerosis research.
In November, the competitors came, meat in tow.
The inaugural Meat Fight (just a kegger, really, Alice says) was special — her father, one of four judges, neared fisticuffs with an affronted entrant; earlier, dad had cast aside a dollop of coleslaw exclaiming, “This is Meat Fight, not Cole Slaw Fight.”
But soon Meat Fight would serve a loftier cause.
Just weeks after Meat Fight No. 1, Alice’s brother, Jim, announced he had multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often-disabling central nervous system disease with no known cure. He added that he was training for a 150-mile bike ride, a fundraiser for MS research, and asked Alice to join him.
Jim says he “did exactly what you aren’t supposed to do — looked [his condition] up online.”
He learned of evidence suggesting that exercise can help manage the symptoms of MS. So, within one week of the diagnosis, he bought a bike and began pedaling.
It took a minute for Alice to wrap her head around it all but, like her brother, she moved right from grief to action.
The family organized another Meat Fight and sold tickets to finance the MS ride’s $300 per-person donation requirement.
Henceforth, Meat Fight would be official and benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In 2012, it brought in $20,000. In 2013, “Parks and Recreation” actor Nick Offerman became an honorary judge after Alice dismissively (and tipsily, she admits) tweeted him an invite. Each year the event made more — $50,000, $100,000, $150,000, $175,000 — and tickets, at $95 apiece, sell-out within 15 minutes.
The secret? “Act as if,” Alice says. “If you just act like you’re a thing, people will start thinking you are.”
And, more importantly, apply “funlanthropy” principals — basically, gather bearded dudes, supply whisky and beer, loads of meat and handmade bronze-sprayed trophies. Don’t be something lame like a luncheon, she laments, be weird and have a blast. This mix makes participants feel privy to an inside joke, and helps draw “fancy chefs” (such as Brian Luscher, Andrew Dilda and Anastacia Quinones) and judges including pitmasters Aaron Franklin, Tim Byers and Justin Fourton — to the competition, Alice says. “It really takes a meat village,” she says.
For Jim, the MS diagnosis meant making the most of his life and his body.
“He will do his seventh Ironman in November,” Alice says. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 115-mile ride and a 26.2-mile run.
On that first ride, organizers gave him an “I Ride With MS” jersey. He noticed only a few of those shirts on the course, so he started asking around — why weren’t more people with MS participating? He heard two main answers: bikes are expensive and novices are intimidated by challenging athletic events.
“Every person with MS who was on the sideline cheering, I wanted them on a bike,” Jim says, noting how good it made him feel — he has dropped about 70 pounds from his large frame, he says, and feels physically stronger.
So the siblings started an arm of Meat Fight called Meat Bike. So far, Meat Bike has given almost 100 racing bicycles, complete with necessary accessories, to people with MS. From that idea sprung what Jim drolly dubs “Meat Bike Endurance Labs,” where teams have formed to compete in marathons and triathlons. Professional triathlete and coach Kelly Williamson volunteers her time to train members.
Such endeavors can be exceptionally painful for someone with MS. Imagine training tirelessly, but losing balance during the race, falling over on the road. It has happened. “You just get up,” Jim says.
At this point, no disappointment has compared to the joy of camaraderie, the optimism generated within the athletic group, the feeling he gets watching a member accomplish something they thought impossible. So he keeps pushing himself and his teammates.
“We underestimate ourselves and then can be amazed at what we can do,” he says. “We learn that we are not made of glass.”
Tickets to Meat Fight go on sale Oct. 3.
They traditionally sell out within the half hour. Meat Fight 2017 takes place Nov. 12. Visit meatfight.com for more information, to purchase tickets, donate or buy merchandise.