At first glance, it seems as though Saugus football player Colton Fitzgerald and Cleveland Cavaliers player Larry Nance, Jr. lead very different lives. In many ways they do, but both of their lives are dictated by one similar thing: Crohn’s disease.
In January, Fitzgerald and Nance, Jr.’s lives intersected in a physical sense as the Saugus junior met courtside prior to the Lakers’ game against the Cavs. In addition to seeing the game at Staples Center, Fitzgerald was treated to a ride in the Goodyear Blimp as part of a surprise from Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis in partnership with Goodyear.
“It was awesome to hear his story,” Fitzgerald said of meeting Nance, Jr. “We probably did talk for around 40 minutes. We got to talk to him and stay on the court for a while.
“Hearing his story and how alike his problem is compared to mine, it’s almost the same thing. We’re on the same medication and we’re going through the next same thing and seeing what he can do and produce on the court is awesome to see. It gives me more faith to fight through and make my dreams happen.”
Athletes vs. Crohn’s & Colitis, a foundation created in part by Nance, Jr., selected Fitzgerald as well as another LA-based student-athlete with Crohn’s disease for the event after honoring both of them in an Instagram series called “Teammate Tuesday.”
Because of their “Teammate Tuesday” selection, both were chosen to participate in January’s event. Fitzgerald said he hit it off immediately with the other student-athlete, something that Casey Nance, sister of Nance, Jr. and director of operations for AVC, was thrilled to see.
“It was helpful for them to spend the day with each other,” Nance said. “They probably didn’t have very many friends with Crohn’s in school or their sports teams. To be with someone around their age who has the passions, who knows what they’re going through is powerful as well.”
Fitzgerald was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which affects the lining of the digestive tract, when he was in seventh grade. As an active, athletic kid, he had to make some changes to his life after the diagnosis. His diet changed and his medication drained him, so he had to manage his time and activities in order to keep his energy up.
Since that point, Fitzgerald says the biggest change he’s made is in his attitude.
“Confidence is probably the biggest one,” he said. “Knowing that I can still do stuff and be outside, go outside and do stuff. Don’t sit in my room, that’s when it gets worse.”
Crohn’s disease is chronic and has no cure. AVC is focused on raising awareness and eventually finding a cure.
“But a huge part of it is also spreading hope and inspiration for the people who are battling the illness and let people know no matter if they want to be an NBA player, a teacher, a doctor, this condition doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your goals,” Nance said.
Fitzgerald has a goal of playing football in college, but he also hopes to let other people who have Crohn’s disease know that a diagnosis doesn’t have to limit their lifestyles.
“Fight your way through it because it will make you mentally tougher and a stronger person and you’re not the only one going through it,” he said. “There’s more people going through it so you can text, call, try to figure out who has it and go talk to them. It was awesome to talk to someone else about it that actually has it.”