Sports

Marshall Alum Recognized as 1 of Nation’s Top ‘Uplifting Athletes’

culbreathwebAt the beginning of the 2009 football season, Princeton senior Jordan Culbreath started to feel not exactly right. He suffered from headaches, extreme fatigue, easy bruising, and numbness in his quads and fingers.

culbreathweb

A THREE-SPORT STAR at Falls Church’s Marshall High School, Jordan Culbreath went on to excel on the football field at Princeton University until he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 2009. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer/Princeton OAC)

At the beginning of the 2009 football season, Princeton senior Jordan Culbreath started to feel not exactly right. He suffered from headaches, extreme fatigue, easy bruising, and numbness in his quads and fingers.

Culbreath, a 2006 graduate of Marshall High School, passed off these symptoms. He wrote them off as the result of tough practices, and the pressure he felt in being named a team captain. It was football, after all. Players bruise. People get tired.

And so do people suffering from aplastic anemia.

After playing the first two games of the 2009 season, Culbreath sat out with a sprain ankle. A team doctor could tell something was wrong, and ordered blood work. Culbreath was soon admitted to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare disease where one’s bone marrow doesn’t produce new blood cells.

“My blood was so low the doctors were surprised that I even walked into the building, let alone just played a football game the previous weekend,” said Culbreath during a recent phone interview. Culbreath was hospitalized for eight days to be diagnosed and receive initial treatment.

“I was obviously nervous at first. I’d never been admitted to the hospital for anything,” he added.

Last month, Uplifting Athletes named Culbreath as one of its 2011 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award nominees.

The national nonprofit Uplifting Athletes unites college football and rare disease research, education and advocacy. Each Uplifting Athletes chapter is based at a university and run by student-athletes. According to its press release, the organization’s Rare Disease Champion Award “is presented annually to recognize a leader in the world of college football who has realized their potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.”

Culbreath is one of five finalists, along with North Carolina State offensive coordinator Dana Bible, UCLA running back Derrick Coleman; Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill; and Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien. The winner will be decided through online voting.

“I felt honored. It’s great to get such a high recognition,” said Culbreath, who is starting a Princeton chapter of Uplifting Athletes with a couple of his friends. “The other guys who are also nominated, they have amazing stories as well. To be grouped with those guys is pretty incredible.”

At Marshall, Culbreath was a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball. In 2008 at Princeton, he had his best season with 1,206 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in 10 games, earning unanimous first-team All Ivy League honors.

After playing the first two games on 2009, Culbreath missed the rest of the season receiving treatment at NIH. He now receives an hour-long infusion twice a week.
“My doctor pretty much said I won the bad luck lottery,” Culbreath said of the aplastic anemia diagnosis.

Culbreath received a medical hardship waiver from the Ivy League, and played in 2010. He rushed for 384 yards and one touchdown in eight games. He’s now looking forward to graduating this spring with a degree in aerospace engineering, and plans to work for Merrill Lynch.

“The support of my family, the support of my friends and the support of my school was incredible,” said Culbreath, who turns 23 at the end of this month. “I couldn’t have asked for more support from everybody that I was in contact with, that contacted me just to give me their prayers and their wishes.”

To learn more about Uplifting Athletes, or to vote for this year’s Rare Disease Champion, visit www.upliftingathletes.org.