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Travelers CEO Jay Fishman steps down to fight ALS

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HARTFORD --Travelers CEO Jay Fishman officially stepped down from his position on Monday, months after announcing he'd retired by year's end after being diagnosed with ALS.

Fishman sent out his annual holiday letter to employees just before Thanksgiving. It said, in part, "This year, in what I will admit to you is a year of greater physical challenge, I want you to know that I feel exactly the same way. I am so blessed to feel a deep satisfaction from the people in my life."

Fishman will continue in his new position as executive chairman at the insurance company, but Alan Schnitzer has now stepped up to lead the ship.

Many say that Fishman's revelation that he's battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a boon for those trying to raise awareness for the cause.

"I'm just so impressed with his courage, his humble approach to this, and his want to try to make a mark to help other people," said Mike Burke, the executive director of the ALS Association's Connecticut chapter.

Burke has never met Fishman, but says that his announcement is important due to the prevalence of the disease.

"We have 70 new diagnoses in Connecticut every year," Burke said.

Gov. Dan Malloy seems to agree with Burke's assessment of the now former CEO. On Monday, he announced that November 30, the day that Fishman officially stepped down, would now be known as Jay S. Fishman Day in the state of Connecticut.

It's especially important now, about a year and a half after the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral across the nation as a huge demonstration of social activism. The challenge, in which people would post a video on Facebook of themselves being doused with a bucket of ice water and then challenge friends to do the same, has died down, but not before it raised $115 million for research.

Fishman himself has donated millions to research the disease.

Burke says research is at a critical junction between the improved technology and knowledge currently out there.

"We're hopeful, right now is the right time for all of these things to intersect and we'll get further down the road to therapies or treatments," Burke said.

ALS Connecticut is launching the "4" campaign this month to continue its effort to raise funds. The number "4" refers to the jersey number that former Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig wore. He was the first person in the limelight to bring attention to the disease after he was diagnosed with it, and now his name is eponymous with it.

To find out more about ALS and the Connecticut chapter, click here.

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