Stanford Scholar-Athletes

  • January 28, 2011
  • Scott

The unofficial Stanford blog is making the case that “Our Athletes are Better than Your Athletes” – and when I started reading it I was rolling my eyes. But Stanford is my alma mater so I read the whole thing – painful as it might be.

Yes, Stanford wins a lot of NCAA championships (last year Stanford won its 16th consecutive Director’s Cup – a string it started while I was in school, and look like they’re on pace to do it a 17th year with the finish the football team had).

But the article really focuses on the quality of scholarship of the athletes Stanford produces and attracts.  And it really is quite amazing.  The part that really got my attention was the story of Jake Vandermeer, a Men’s Volleyball player, who also just happened to help develop a potential cure for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which is a degradation of the hip.

I was pretty stunned, reading this.  It turns out I’m something of an expert on Legg Calve Perthes disease, because I had this disease as a child and learned all about it first-hand.  It was a six-year physical therapy recovery, during which I gave up running, kicking, jumping.  I learned to swim differently (no freestyle kick); I kicked left-footed; I learned to walk with a crutch;  I learned to skip-hop-step with a brace on one leg; and I learned what it was like to be seen as an oddity.  I was told I might not run again, and it was obvious that it would be challenge to compete in sports.

Although I still have significant discomfort (sometimes pain) in my hip, I’ve often been told that it is the best example of a recovery that my doctors have ever seen (the orthopedic ones, who actually are familiar with the disease in the first place).  I went on to play varsity tennis in high school in Florida.  I played Ultimate Frisbee at Stanford, a club-level sport (my high school tennis exploits were not going to get me onto the Stanford Tennis team, needless to say).  An Ultimate Frisbee legend by the name of “Truth” Knuth (Don Knuth‘s son, for those of you CS geeks out there) recruited me to the game of ultimate.  In turn, I recruited many of my friends to the sport.

The idea that you could overcome Legg-Calve-Perthes disease has been part of me since I was 6 years old.  But the idea that you could cure it, never even crossed my mind.  It never seemed like the kind of thing you could cure.

So, it might have been easy to take this Stanford blog post lightly.  But you can imagine my shock to have this lighthearted article strike to the heart of my childhood experience.  Maybe Stanford does have the best scholar-athletes.  Mr. Vandermeer, I just want to say thanks for your work – 1200 children a year may not sound like a lot, but I can tell you what a difference this would have made in my life – I hope it can make a difference in the lives of children to come.

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