Sophia '21 & Emma Phelan: ALS Awareness Activists

Tom Phelan loved his job. As the Director of Technology at Peddie School starting in 2001, Phelan greatly advanced the breadth and depth of Peddie’s use of technology in the classroom and on campus, and was widely recognized as a leader in his field. Tom, his wife, Karolina Fraczkowska and their three children, Sophia, Emma and Zach were a part of the Peddie community and the Peddie family.

When Tom was diagnosed with ALS, his family’s grief was Peddie’s grief.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disease that attacks motor neurons. The neurons degenerate, and with them goes the ability to move, eat, or speak. There is no cure. Tom passed away on June 13, 2015, 18 months after his diagnosis.

When Tom became ill his young daughters - Sophia, then 10, and Emma, 8 - turned into activists for ALS awareness. In the first year of their father’s illness, the girls rode bikes in the ALS Express Bike Ride, visited with then-Congressman Joe Runyan in Washington, D.C. and raised over $1,000 for The ALS Association in a fundraiser at their school. Since then, Sophia and Emma - now 14 and 11 - have only increased their work towards cure.

The girls ride annually in the Ride to Defeat ALS, a non-competitive bike ride through southern New Jersey. The Phelan sisters are Youth Ambassadors and top fundraisers, riding together under the team name Phelan’s Phighters. In 2017, the girls rode 10 miles with their 25-person team of family and friends, and the Ride raised almost $150,000 for ALS research.

Every year, Sophia and Emma go to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress from New Jersey, including Chris Smith, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Frank LoBiondo, Tom MacArthur, and Donald Norcross, to encourage them to make ALS research a priority.

In 2017, Sophia and Emma were the first recipients of the Flame of Hope Award for Advocacy by The ALS Association at their 40th Anniversary Gala. “Sophia and Emma Phelan have demonstrated their intelligence, compassion, and determination to be outstanding advocates for the ALS cause,” said Tony Heyl, Director of Communications and Public Policy at The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter. “When they sadly lost their father to ALS, they used their voices to be strong advocates for funding ALS research and care both in Washington, DC and in New Jersey. They are effective at everything they do and inspire others, including their own Congresswoman, to be leaders in the fight against ALS.”

Peddie is proud to have had Tom Phelan as part of our community, to now have Karolina as a valued member of our science faculty and to have Sophia as a member of our Class of 2021. The drive and compassion of this family makes Peddie a better and stronger community every day.

To learn more about ALS and the advocacy that the Phelan-Fraczkowska family and others like them do to increase ALS awareness, fund research and more, visit The ALS Association.