Wiedmer: Baylor's Ryan Seaberg keeps working to defeat diabetes

Wiedmer: Baylor's Ryan Seaberg keeps working to defeat diabetes

March 8th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The fundraising letter that Baylor School senior Ryan Seaberg sent out this past October pretty much tells the story.

Mailed to extended family and friends, it read in part:

"I was first diagnosed with [Type 1] diabetes at age 2. With your [past] support and the research findings from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, I have grown up healthy. I am a senior in high school at the Baylor School and play defensive end at 6' 2" and 235 lbs. I plan on playing football in college. For my senior project this year, my grandfather and I would like to achieve our goal of raising $20,000 for JDRF in our efforts to help other children with diabetes ..."

By the way, that's $20,000 for this year. Over the last 10 years before this one, with a lot of help from his friends, Seaberg's fundraising skills have pulled in more than $110,000 for JDRF.

So the young man's long had serious philanthropic game, whether that college football scholarship ever materialized or not.

But come 3 p.m. today, Seaberg won't only have raised more than $14,000 to date for his senior project, he will sign scholarship papers to play football for Elon of the Southern Conference.

"Ryan played fullback and defensive end for us," said Baylor coach Phil Massey on Wednesday. "He's got pretty good hands, but I think his future is on defense. I think he can be really good there."

Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in this country, the sad result of a nation seemingly addicted to overeating and under-exercising.

The victims of Type 1 diabetes have no choice in the matter, however. Exercise and diet have nothing to do with it. The child's body simply fails to produce insulin, which forces the child to take as many as 10 shots of insulin a day in order to survive.

"It was 1996, just before Christmas," recalled Ryan's father, Dr. David Seaberg, who is the dean of the UT medical school's Chattanooga campus, as well as an emergency physician at Erlanger. He is also the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

"When Ryan was first diagnosed, we didn't have the advances in monitoring and insulin we do now. Kids weren't encouraged to play sports such as football or wrestling."

Ryan didn't care. A devoted Florida Gators football fan, he was determined to copy his heroes on Friday night, even though he entered Baylor in the ninth grade standing 5-9 and weighing 155 pounds.

"I could bench press 135 pounds," he said earlier this week with a laugh.

It was no laughing matter to Baylor coach Phil Massey. Having worked in high school football a total of 26 years -- the last six as Baylor -- Massey had coached only one other youngster with Type 1 diabetes.

"There was never a question that he could play," said Massey. "And he had a great attitude from the start. But sometimes he'd let his blood sugar get too low that first year or two. And Ryan broke his arm his freshman year trying to bat down a pass. He was a safety back then ... that should tell you how much he's changed."

Growing from 5-9 to 6-2 tells a lot, as does going from 155 pounds to 232, and from a 135-pound bench press to his current press of 320. And Seaberg gives himself insulin shots in his arms and legs as many as 10 times a day.

But that's never been what Massey has most admired about him.

"Ryan has never complained about his situation, never felt sorry for himself," said Massey. "We're all so proud of what he's been able to accomplish."

To give permanent meaning to that statement, the Baylor coaching staff voted Seaberg the Philip Cole Award, which goes to the Red Raider that the coaches believe has "maximized his full potential and talent."

The fundraising for juvenile diabetes aside -- when Seaberg and friends take part in diabetes walk-a-thons they call themselves "Ryan's Express" -- he wants to major in business at Elon.

But what he most cares about is helping make better lives for all those afflicted with juvenile diabetes.

"If anything, it will teach you the importance of responsibility at a younger age," Ryan said. "And that can help you realize your goals as you grow older."

Both Elon football and the crusade to end Type 1 diabetes would appear to be in really good hands for years to come.