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An NFL Player's Battle with Crohn's

It could have sidelined NFL player David Garrard for good. But his inspiring story shows that you can overcome anything.

By David Garrard, Jacksonville, Florida

As appeared in

I’m a football player, a quarterback with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m used to pain. You get hit, you get up and keep going.

But I’d never felt anything like the pain that ripped through my gut that January afternoon in 2004. One minute I was sitting in my lounge chair at home watching TV, the next minute I was doubled over. Not even Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis hitting me from the blind side hurt that bad. For a few minutes, I could hardly breathe. Finally the pain went away.

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I’d just sat up again when it came back, worse than before. I was sweating and shivering at the same time. “Mary, come here,” I called to my wife. “I feel like my stomach’s about to explode.” She had to help me up from the chair.

The next 24 hours, the pain came and went in waves. Then it stopped. Some kind of nasty bug, I figured, and put it out of my mind.

I had to focus on getting in top shape, stronger than I’d ever been. My goal that year was to finally win the starting job at quarterback, a job I’d been dreaming of—and working for—almost all my life.

I still remember the day I fell in love with the game. I was six. My mom took me to my older brother Anthony’s football practice. The sunshine, the guys running around in their uniforms, the smell of the grass—everything about it was magic. This is me, I thought. This is what I want to do when I grow up.

Not only did I want to play football, I wanted to be the quarterback, the team leader. By middle school, I was. My mother might not have understood the x’s and o’s, but she understood my passion. She felt the same way about nursing, lifting her patients’ spirits, tending to their bodies and souls.

She was always telling me I could achieve anything I dreamed if I believed in myself and in God. Not that I should expect everything to come easy.

“You’ve got to put in the effort, then trust in the Lord. With his help, you’ll succeed,” she said. “Don’t let anything keep you down.”

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Mom didn’t. Not when she and my father got divorced and she had to raise us on her own. Not even when she got breast cancer.

“My strength comes from my faith,” she told me. I didn’t really know what she meant, not then, but I know I never once saw her spirits flag. Right to the end—she died when I was 14—she had joy in her heart.

Her example and my brother’s—Anthony put his own life on hold and moved back home to raise my younger sister and me—drove me. I dedicated myself to football in high school, picked my coaches’ brains, trained like crazy, stuck to my guns about playing QB even though some college recruiters wanted me to try tight end or fullback because of my size.

I didn’t let up in college, at East Carolina University, where I became the starting quarterback partway through freshman year. My teammates might chill out at the dorm after practice. I studied game tape, did extra workouts.

Okay, I’ll admit, I didn’t spend all my time outside the classroom at the football complex—I also met and fell in love with another student named Mary Knox, a tennis player who was as much of a sports nut as I was.