Student-Athlete Exemplifies True Sportsmanship

 
A little over a year ago, 23-year-old David Lerner lived a healthy, active life like any typical college student. The Florida native was heading into his senior year as a punter for the University of Florida Gators when he began experiencing excruciating abdominal pains. He thought they were nothing more than a bad reaction to his poor diet, but just five days later, Lerner learned he had Crohn’s disease.

 
“It was a real blindside. I never really had anything wrong in my life,” said Lerner. “To hear you have this disease and there is no known cure for it at this time…That was very difficult for me to grasp and handle.”


He was diagnosed in July 2011, and it could not have come at more inopportune time. His last training camp of his collegiate football career was starting soon. Lerner was in the midst of an agonizing flare-up, spinning him into depression. “I just knew I couldn’t play in the condition I was in. Two practices a day in 100-degree heat down here is hard enough when you are perfectly healthy, but then when you drop 20 pounds and you haven’t eaten for five days and you can’t get off the couch, that’s not the condition anyone would want to be in.”


After three years of hard work, David felt as though his football days had come to a complete, unforeseen halt. But one day, he received an unexpected phone call from Will Muschamp, head coach of the University of Florida, encouraging him to only train as much as he could and return for his last year. “For a head football coach from a major university to say that is a big deal because no one gets any slack,” said Lerner. “Had I not got that phone call, I probably would not have played just because I felt so sick.”


A Challenging Road to Recovery

Once he started a modified diet and medications for his Crohn’s, Lerner said he slowly began regaining his strength and easing back into his training routine. “My advice would be to train smart. If you’re sick or recovering from a flare, take it easy. If you are feeling good, work extra-hard. There are lots of little things you can do even if you aren't feeling 100 percent. For me, it was stretching. (It’s) not hard on my body but an activity that was vital to my success. For someone else, it could be watching (videos) to fix technique.”


Lerner would go on to have a successful football season. He graduated in December 2011 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sports Management, but not without a unique set of challenges. “The day of a game I’d be on a liquid diet because I was so scared of getting sick before the game,” recalled Lerner. “It was difficult because I knew I wasn’t in the most ideal health, and I didn’t feel as good as I’d like playing in front of 100,000 people. Sometimes I’d hobble to the sidelines because I could barely move; sometime I’d have to go to the bathroom during practice, but ultimately you have to do what you have to do.”


Today, Lerner is enjoying his post-college life as he moves forward into his next phase. In-between working and starting his own company, Lerner mentors others with suffering with IBD. He focuses on young children and their parents, making himself accessible at any time for those who need guidance and an ear to listen. “I have had people break down on the phone with me and I have broken down. I think ‘What can we do about this?” That’s why I try to do my little part.”


Last year, CCFA honored his efforts at the Greater New York Chapter’s 44th Annual Memorial Awards Dinner, which Lerner described as a “tremendous honor.”
“I have been so lucky. I think that my story is one that shows kids suffering from this condition if you want to be an athlete, you can be an athlete. I think that is important for kids to know,” he said. “You don’t have to let (your condition) rule your life. You can do whatever you want because of your hard work and dedication.  Obviously you have to be a little bit more careful, watch your diet a little bit more, making sure you take your medication, but there is no reason you can’t do what you did before.”

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