Brendan Labbadia is like any 3-year-old boy. His arms flail about while chasing his older sister, Cate. He delights in the juice boxes and fruit snacks that are stashed in mom’s purse. He is curious. He is energetic. And he is always smiling, especially when football and the Knights are being discussed.
“You look at him and you don’t know there’s anything wrong,” his father, Chris, said. “That’s the toughest part for us because we know something is there.”
Nearly a year ago, 12 days before his second birthday, Brendan was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It is a progressive muscle disorder that causes loss of muscle function and independence with a lifetime expectancy that usually falls short of one’s 30s.
While the undefeated UCF football team gears up for arguably its biggest game in program history against No. 12 South Carolina on Saturday at noon, the Knights will also have the Labbadias and the Duchenne community on their minds.
UCF head coach George O’Leary and the football staff, which has been a part of the annual Coach To Cure MD initiative since it began in 2008, will don special patches on their arms to bring awareness to the disease.
Coach to Cure MD is led by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a support organization that Brendan’s family became involved with several months ago at the urging of his neurologist.
Colleen is a UCF alum and a fiercely devoted mother to Brendan, whom she works with tirelessly to keep his muscles moving.
The Labbadias first knew something was wrong when Brendan still hadn’t begun to walk by 15 months. After he was enrolled in physical therapy and still had not taken steps by 18 months, testing diagnosed Brendan’s condition.
He has progressed tremendously since then. Thanks to physical therapy masked as playtime in his every day routine, he seems to run more now than he walks. But this is what is called the “grace period” of his condition. In less than a few short years, he will begin to regress.
One reason the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) was drawn to Coach To Cure MD was because of the unique parallels between Duchenne, a disorder which robs young men of precious muscle strength, and college football, a game where young men are at the peak of their muscle strength.
“There is no treatment or cure, but with funds and awareness that are raised through events like this, hopefully it will be a domino effect that one day that cure will come,” Colleen said. “It’s very heartwarming that UCF has participated for as many years as they have, and to be able to come out and support it, it’s amazing.
“When I wake up every day, I wake up to the sad reality that Brendan has a fatal genetic disorder,” his mother continued. “Knowing that there are agencies out there like Parent Project MD gives me hope that someday he won’t suffer the fate they are telling me he will. That he can have a brighter future; that he can go on to do the things we dream for him. We have Florida Prepaid (College Plan) set up for him. We hope he can come to UCF.”