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Everybody who knows Jimmy Judge knows that the only place you could find him on a Friday night in the fall is on the sidelines cheering for his 17-year-old son Jakie.
“Same as any dad, you know we enjoy watching our kid play any sport. Whether it be football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, just love watching him compete and have that competitive attitude,” Judge said.
Even the life-altering news that he received this past year would not change the fact that he would be there supporting his son.
“It started about a year and a half ago, but I just chalked it up to maybe a sinus infection. But then I started noticing fine motor skills lost in my right hand when I was on the gun range,” Judge said.
Judge has been an employee of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for over 30 years and is currently serving as an assistant chief officer. He has always been an avid public speaker for the sheriff’s office, speaking to many different groups across northeast Florida. It was during one of these speeches in that he started to notice a problem with his enunciation, which he thought was caused by a sinus infection. He attributed his loss of fine motor skills in his right hand to a pulled or pinched nerve due to his active lifestyle. It wasn’t until this loss of fine motor skills worsened that he decided to consult a doctor.
He was referred to a hand specialist, who Judge said immediately knew he had either multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS. After a series of tests and a trip to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore it was confirmed in May that Judge had ALS. ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It eventually affects control of the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe. There is currently no cure for this fatal disease.
Once Judge learned about his diagnosis, he had to disclose it to the sheriff’s office, whose employees immediately rallied around him. He was transferred to a less stressful patrol zone and although he was reluctant to accept it at first, his colleagues began providing financial support. They even created an account into which colleagues can donate portions of their paycheck; the account is connected to a debit card that Judge uses to purchase plane tickets and other treatment expenses.
“You kind of expect it from your friends and family,” Judge said, “but you don’t expect it from your employer and you certainly don’t expect it from community members, so they’ve been awesome.”
Fellow officer Terrance Hightower has known Judge since their high school days when their paths crossed in the martial arts competitive circuit. They were later reintroduced in the field force.
“He’s that guy that will give his all for you. I mean, he has a big heart. He doesn’t see color or anything like that, he just has a big heart. I mean, right is right and wrong is wrong and he just tries to be good to people,” Hightower said.
Hightower said Judge is a fighter, and this disease will not change that about him.
“They want him to go ahead and sit in a wheelchair and just welcome ALS with open arms. Man, ain’t nobody gonna do all that. … Jimmy’s gonna keep walking until he can’t walk no more.”
Judge has left an impression on others, too. New York native Zach Van Warner moved to Jacksonville three years ago and worked in the railroad business. He recently met Judge at the gym and said as soon as he met him, he knew he was going to be prevalent in his life. He just didn’t know why.
“The first time I met this gentleman I was enamored by him,” Van Warner said. “He simultaneously commanded respect through his eyes and his posturing, but his smile never left his face. I watch him enrich everyone’s lives who come around him whether they know him or not.”
Soon after they met, Judge shared his diagnosis with Van Warner who then felt inspired to create a Facebook group in support of him, which grew to over 1,000 members. Van Warner and his wife decided that they wanted to do more, and created the Jax Blue ALS Foundation.
“Meeting Mr. Judge and his family I feel that there’s more I should do and can do, and I have that don’t-stop attitude, and so I won’t stop until we find something out to help this family.”
The foundation’s mission is to raise funds to support families who have been affected by ALS and to create awareness in the community. Their focus right now is on the Judge family, but the goal is to reach as many families as they can.
As for Jimmy Judge, his focus is on each day as it comes.
“I’ve had a great life,” Judge said. “They gave me a year but I don’t even think about that. I just think about every day and I just keep on keeping on. I got a great wife and a great son and my parents are the blueprint for what parents should be, they really keep me positive too.”