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Elliott Fry’s Example

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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South Carolina's all-time leading scorer and the current kicker for the AAF's Orlando Apollos has been meticulously committed to his cause for years, with notable results to show for it.

When you get to the SEC, there are 80,000-100,000 people in the crowd and one million watching. You realize that your sugars could literally alter the whole outcome of a game."
~Elliott Fry

Numbers have always been important for Elliott Fry. South Carolina's all-time leading scorer and the current kicker for the AAF's Orlando Apollos has been meticulously committed to his cause for years, with notable results to show for it. After 359 points for the Gamecocks and, to date, 12 field goals as a professional, Fry has developed command and consistency alike. All of the kicks, and all of the conversions, though, are only the follow-through. His foundation has a much more important metric.    

Known for his football achievements, Fry is also a type one diabetic. He, per the American Diabetes Association, is one of about 1.25 million Americans dealing with the chronic disease, the less common form of diabetes, where the pancreas no longer secrets the sugar-processing hormone insulin. The condition requires daily injections to decrease glucose levels, along with the corresponding checking of blood sugar readings via finger-pricks to monitor treatment. Various complications can come with diabetes, a wide-ranging array of potential issues that can impact the entire body. 

Intertwining every aspect of daily life, the changes that come with a diagnosis are staggeringly comprehensive. Type One Diabetes, or once Juvenile Onset Diabetes, forces a complete recalibration of a young person's life. From how you eat to how you sleep and everything in between, the starting point for each day changes. As soon as someone is told, they must also immediately re-learn the basics of functioning all over again. The education process never ends.  

The goal is accuracy and control, with all kinds of factors figured in. It's a familiar format for Fry, given his occupation.

Before Fry was a star athlete and academic in the SEC or was getting paid to play, he first had to learn how to climb life's ladder with his condition, literally and figuratively, at his side. With all of the intricacies that Type One Diabetes can bring, Fry, like all diabetics, figured it all out on the fly. Any transition from high school to adulthood is already difficult; add in an all-encompassing health problem and steps forward can sometimes be deliberate, at best. Fry had to find his footing first; then he could kick. 

The bright lights of college football's big stage helped open Fry's eyes to the sheer significance of his situation.

"At first, it was definitely challenging to say the least," he acknowledged. "To realize that you have to take care of not only your job on the field, but the other part of my life, diabetes. I have to make sure that my body and my blood sugars and everything is ready to go so I can perform at that level. While you have other people kind of focusing on the game and going out in pregame and doing everything to prepare, I also had to throw diabetes into the mix. Where are my blood sugars going? Where are they trending?"

It's only natural to wonder about the possibility of diabetic difficulties negatively impacting Fry on the field. What might not be quite as obvious is the chance of strife spinning the other way around. Blood sugar levels can be greatly influenced by factors beyond just activity, diet and medication; stress, both physical and mental, can play a role in what and when fluctuations occur, with the overall health ripple effect potentially being quite significant. Simply put, it's a lot to deal with. 

Fry had to learn how to manage both who and what he was. His life, to a certain extent, depended on it. Diabetes was and remains a competition that people don't see and a contest with no real end. Then came the pressure of performance. Before Fry could prove true between the uprights, he had to be balanced between the ears. Beyond just the box score, Fry's most critical measures came on a meter instead. Efficiency in one realm would lead to effectiveness in another.  

"In high school, not that I didn't pay attention to my blood sugars or didn't prepare, but you look at it like 'who cares if my sugar goes low in a game, I'll just...'. If I miss a kick, it doesn't matter, right? You might have 50 people who care. When you get to the SEC, there are 80,000-100,000 people in the crowd and one million watching. You realize that your sugars could literally alter the whole outcome of a game. If my sugar were to go low and we needed a game-tying field goal, there is a lot of pressure on that," he added. "It kind of opened my mind up to take it really seriously and realize that I have to keep them in check."

Though times have changed for Fry, the end result has not. Managing his diabetes is priority number one. With time, however, has come cohesion. Fry has gotten dramatically more comfortable lacing his personal life with his professional one, so much so that diabetes has become second-nature. The disease, while always front and center in its own way, has faded into the daily norm, perhaps Fry's ultimate validation. Like problems often do, progress has come in many forms. 

"It's been a challenge to get everything perfect before games. Obviously, having some experience with it for four years at South Carolina, it comes a lot easier now," Fry nodded. "The technology is a little bit better. I have the CGM patch on my arm that shows your continuous blood sugar, so that makes it easier to see where I'm trending. It's definitely just a part of my routine now and I really don't think about it too much."

What has been consuming Fry's time as of late is football. Though he was a record-setting kicker in Columbia, next-level chances have generally been few and far between for even the most accomplished of college specialists. The AAF, and a relationship with one of the greatest coaches of all time, changed that for Fry. Nearly a year ago, the legendary Steve Spurrier, Fry's coach at South Carolina, extended an invite as the leader of the Orlando Apollos. The game he loved, for the first time in some time, was suddenly an option.  

"To be honest with you, I ended up hanging up my cleats this past year. I was working in finance down in Buckhead in Atlanta. It really wasn't on my radar. I had quit kicking, I was trying to start on a different career," Fry shared. "Coach Spurrier called me over the summer. I was a little hesitant just because I didn't know too much about the AAF, but once I realized the opportunity it presented I was all in. It's been awesome to be able to come back and continue doing something you love and, honestly, get to make a living off of it as well."

Clearly, Fry has made the most of his opportunity. He is tied for the second-most field goals in the league with 12 and, at this point, has not yet missed a kick all season. Impressively, Fry has converted four attempts from at least 40 yards out. Entering week eight, he is a standout performer for the premier team in the game at 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the AAF East Division. A championship could soon be on the horizon.

So, too, could a shot in the NFL. There are dozens of players in the AAF with NFL experience, including well-established veterans at kicker like Nick Folk and Nick Novak. Fry could be the next-in-line. Though his focus is very much on the present, the possibility of what could be, a mere afterthought not long ago, now has real appeal. Already a pro, football's highest level could be on the horizon. Fry, at the very least, is back in the fold.        

"I've been kicking good this year and I think if I keep doing that I should be able to maybe get into a camp, maybe a pre-season and, who knows, maybe end up playing in the NFL? I like this league a lot, I'd be happy here," he continued. "I'd love to be in the NFL. If I don't make it this year, I'd love to come back, kick again here next year and maybe see if the NFL works out the year after that. Obviously, I would definitely love to be in the NFL."

Regardless of where Fry goes from here, what he represents is firmly, albeit largely anonymously, in place.

Fry is a college football great and a professional athlete, yes, but also an example of how, why and in spite of what. Though most will never find athletic acclaim, the example Fry has set transcends; no adversity, not even Type One Diabetes, can limit your potential. The power of all that Fry has done and is that others, people he will never meet, share in those successes. In simply doing what he does, Fry inspires others like him to do the same.    

Emerging as a high-profile student-athlete in the SEC, Fry, then still just a teenager, began to represent more than just himself, his family and his team. That spotlight follows Fry every time he takes the field.

"When I got to South Carolina, it was something that I didn't really think too much of. I think with most people with diabetes, you don't really going around telling the world. It doesn't matter, it's just something you deal with," Fry stated. "My freshman year, a couple newspapers picked up the story that I was diabetic. I started getting a lot of messages from people with Type One Diabetes and parents who were maybe scared to let their kids play sports. I realized that I did have a platform and a responsibility to be a good role model for kids who have it and just anyone dealing with it."

The example, for lack of a better word, sticks.

"Try to show kids who have it that diabetes can't stop you from doing anything you want to do, but you have to take control of it. You can't push it to the side, you have to take it head on and control it. If you can do that, it's not going to stop you from doing anything you want to do it life, whether that is playing professional sports or being the president or whatever it is," Fry concluded. "It doesn't have to limit to you."

Often with the game on the line, Fry's career continues to be one where three points can make all of the difference. Those figures are only the ones you see. Kick made or kick missed, one critical point remains and counts more than all the rest. To almost everyone, Fry is just another football player. Here, that's kind of the whole idea.  

Quietly, the totals that make the difference for Fry are blood sugar levels, carb-counting ratios and HbA1c figures. Also, even when he doesn't know it, those who follow his lead.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports