February 9, 2023 | by Jacob Barringer

Getting Back in the Game

In high school, I was what you call an “Iron-Man” athlete. I played both sides of the football field, discovered new ways to exploit my defender on the court, and jumped high (really high).

The Rise

After my cancer diagnosis and subsequent recovery, I was determined to get back into shape and begin competing again. I labored for months, improving my body so that it would seem like I hadn’t just been a hairless shell of my former self, laying in a hospital bed. I ate nutritious foods, spent countless hours at the gym, and always listened to my physicians when they advised me. 

It was my time. I was gaining recognition from my peers and coaches as they observed my tenacity. I accomplished my goal of earning a starting position in my first year of playing on a football team as a freshman Linebacker and my first season was successful, to say the least.

Now it was time for basketball season, my favorite sport. I had just grown eight inches the summer before, so of course, my coordination was a bit off. But, I had the raw power to blow through any defender on the court. I was excited to finally get the opportunity to play for a high school team. On the first day of tryouts, the coach approached me. He explained that he was worried about my health and wasn’t sure if it was wise for me to play for the school. He also hinted that I would be a liability to the team due to my previous medical complications. Despite being cleared for action by multiple physicians, the coach advised me not to try out for the team. This was emotionally detrimental for me… I had trained for years to earn a spot on the team. My peers all expected me to be on the team with them and become a key driver of the offense, and a tenacious force defensively. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I had no other choice, my first love had been stripped from me because of circumstances I couldn’t control; even though I was years removed from the cancerous disease that afflicted me. I had to find a backup, a rebound, something to take the pain away.

Track season was just around the corner in early March, and my favorite coach of all time, the late John Hunsucker, noticed that I could dunk a basketball and I was only 5’10. He approached me and requested I join the track team as a high jumper. 

Our first practice was an indoor practice and Hunsucker wanted to test my talent. At first, he set the bar at a low 5′. I cleared it with ease and terrible form. He coached me on how to count my steps properly and arch my back at the right point to get the most out of my jump. We went from 5′, 5’4″, 5’8″, all the way to 6′ where I had maxed out at the time. I never realized that I could accomplish this, but due to his coaching and my willingness to learn, I realized that I could reach new heights that I hadn’t ever imagined.

A year went by, and I had lost interest in football. I was all about jumping over the bar now. I began doing plyometrics in preparation for the upcoming track season, when tragedy struck.

The Fall

I landed wrong on my left foot (my jumping foot) and felt a burning rip at the bottom of it. The pain was excruciating, but I was determined to finish my set. I pushed out the last few reps and groveled over in pain. I soon found out that I had torn my plantar fascia and would never jump the same with that foot again. My sophomore year track season was over before it had even started.

Still determined to compete, I decided to rework my jumping routine and leap from my right foot. It took some time, but I finally reached the level that I was at before. 

I still played basketball with members of the school team. Every Thursday night we would head to a local church and play for hours. Tragedy would soon strike again as I landed wrong on my right foot this time. In one of the rarest feats in injury history, I somehow managed to dislocate my right ankle while fracturing many metatarsals. With this, my jumping career was over.

In my junior year track season, I missed my regional qualifiers and was disqualified from earning an athletic scholarship. 

I was heartbroken and discouraged. I quite literally lost my foundation, I could no longer excel to the degree that I desired using my legs. I had put countless hours into building my body, mind, and routines. As I walked around on crutches and sported a compression boot for the second time, I made the decision:

I will earn as many scholarships as it takes to pay for college.

The Rise Again

My college fund had been used up pretty quickly by the onslaught of medical bills that followed my cancer diagnosis, so I knew it was up to me to do what I needed to do.

I hosted multiple local blood drives with the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas, volunteered in community service activities, sought leadership roles in school clubs, wrote countless pages of letters pleading my case to scholarship committees, and of course kept my grades up.

I knew how to do all of this because my tenacity for success on the field and the court taught me to be disciplined in my approach. I would exploit opportunities that I would actively hunt. I had the willpower to succeed at all costs.

Fast forward seven years and I am now a 100% debt-free college graduate, thanks in large part to Cancer for College. I’ve used my Bachelors of Science in Business Administration to become a Product Manager at a global leader in Disinfection, Sanitization, Hygiene, and Cleaning. The products I help to innovate and bring forth to the market save lives. In a world of a heightened sense of “clean” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can be sure that my efforts are making a difference each and every day.

Product management isn’t my only passion though, through Cancer for College I’ve found my voice as an advocate, mentor, and active volunteer/committee member. I’ve told my story countless times and have given a first-hand perspective as to what it’s like to live with and survive a terrifying cancer diagnosis.

I actively participate in the CFC Selection Committee and Carolina Branch Planning Committee; volunteering my time, ideas, and voice to raise awareness and funds towards their wonderful initiative. Even now, as more scholarship applicants just like myself submit their stories and dreams, I am on a team of exceptional people that carefully listen and grade their efforts towards receiving a scholarship. As a four-time recipient myself, I suppose CFC values my opinion when it comes to the tricky and sometimes heart-wrenching task of accepting or denying a cancer survivor’s application for scholarship funds. As you can imagine, it is a difficult job. But, this job of mine is so fulfilling and truly centers me back to who I truly am. As I read through these survivor’s stories and watch them spell out their dreams, I’m reminded that I was that kid not long ago, and truthfully, I still am.

I’ll leave you with the best advice that I could give anyone, it may be a bit cryptic to non-athletes, but I’m sure my fellow athletes will understand:

“Never tackle with your arms, always gain leverage on your defender, and for the love of god pick your butt up so you can get it over the bar.”

Jacob Barringer is a 4x Cancer for College Scholarship recipient and is based in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Since graduating from UNC-Charlotte in 2018 with a B.S.B.A. in Marketing Analytics, Jacob has been working as a Product Manager within the cleaning and hygiene industry. He currently works for TTI Floor Care, North America; over nationally recognized consumer brands Hoover and Dirt Devil.  He has volunteered his time and efforts for CFC as an Alumni Advocate, Multi-Committee Member, and Individual Fundraiser supporting the cause.

If you’re a CFC Scholar, and you’d like to contribute to this blog, please send your post or idea to melody@cancerforcollege.org.

To support Cancer for College Scholars, please visit donate through Classy.

Photo credits: Jacob Barringer, Ashton Podiatry, ePainAssist.com