Sunday, December 14, 2003

EKU's Volpenhein fights through pain

Illness, injuries can't stop 7-footer

Two years ago, 7-foot center Tim Volpenhein shed his redshirt walk-on status and proved to coach Travis Ford that he was one of Eastern Kentucky University basketball's best assets.

He didn't let a torn ACL muscle in his right knee ruin his career. He didn't let a case of mononucleosis distract him. But Volpenhein couldn't ignore severe abdominal pains Aug. 19, 2002.

"At first we thought it was appendicitis," said his mother, Linda.

Volpenhein couldn't remember a single major ailment before he graduated from Holy Cross High School in 1999. As he waited in the hospital, he couldn't imagine how another health setback would affect his basketball future.

"I was sitting in the hospital for five hours, having no clue what was going on," Volpenhein said. "Turned out I stayed five days."

Volpenhein was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, an inflammation of the small intestine that can be treated but not cured. Humans have 22 feet of small intestine; doctors removed about 2 feet of Volpenhein's that week.

According to National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 20 percent of people with the disease have a blood relative with some form of it. Mrs. Volpenhein learned she had it 30 years ago, but was assured by doctors that it was not hereditary.

"I never thought either of my children had (Crohn's Disease). It turned out they both do," Mrs. Volpenhein said.

Weeks after Tim had surgery, his sister Traci, 25, was also diagnosed with the same disease.

Mrs. Volpenhein said the disease can lie dormant for years, and she went 15 years between reoccurrences. She has endured two surgeries and lost 17 feet of her small intestine, which is about the maximum she can afford to forfeit.

For Tim, it was the end of stomach-turning salads and dairy products. He lost 15 pounds and, upon his return to school, started eating more soups and drinking fruit punch.

Although he couldn't lift weights for six weeks, Volpenhein slowly regained his strength and eventually returned to basketball. Last season he took two types of medicine daily, played in 17 games for the Colonels and scored 46 points.

Coming off a strong sophomore season, Coach Ford said it was a shame health problems plagued Volpenhein's play. The changes are still noticeable in Volpenhein's game.

"He worked extremely hard to make himself into a good basketball player and developed a strong mentality," Ford said. "The injuries and illnesses really slowed him down. He's unlucky in that aspect, but he has a great attitude and continues to work hard."

Occasionally, Volpenhein can't mask his illness. Sharp pains force him to double over in agony.

"They're so bad, I can't do anything," he said.

But Volpenhein, 23, is finally - for the most part - healthy. The knee injury came first, and the mono last, but he's enjoying his first full season since he was a sophomore. He has played in five Colonels games, averaging 4.4 points and two blocks a game.

"Sometimes it brings me down a bit but I don't wanted to be treated differently," Volpenhein said of his disease. "I'm just happy I'm still here, practicing every day."


• Maryville College junior Karen Tobias (Mt. Notre Dame), a defensive specialist, was named honorable mention All-South Region by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after leading the NCAA Division III with 1,110 total digs.

• Xavier's Tara Boothe (Highlands), the 2002-03 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, was named the A-10 Conference Player of the Week after averaging 23.3 points on 72.2 percent shooting with nine rebounds per game in three games.

• University of Rochester senior forward Andy Larkin (St. Xavier) became the 21st player in school history to score 1,000 points last weekend. Larkin, a preseason honorable mention All-American is averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.

• Freshman long snapper/wide receiver Eric Hazlett (Loveland) was named special teams player of the year for Heidelberg College's football team.

• Heidelberg College freshman Kasey Hill (School for Creative & Performing Arts) was named the women's soccer MVP.

• Mount St. Joseph senior center Tom Luther (Moeller) was named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week after averaging 11.7 points and nine rebounds in three wins last week.

• Mount St. Joseph's Jason Roush was named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Wrestler of the Week after placing second at the Little States Tournament hosted by the University of Indianapolis.

• Mount St. Joseph senior defensive lineman Pat McAtee (Elder) and punter Jon Atwood (Norwood) have been selected to the 2003 Football Gazette NCAA Division III All-North Region Football third team.

• Wilmington freshman Drew Thomas (Princeton) was named the Ohio Athletic Conference Co-Wrestler of the Week after improving his record to 5-0.

• Erin Davren (Ursuline), a junior defender, and Bren Sugarman (Highlands), a sophomore midfielder, led DePaul's women's soccer team to a Conference USA tournament championship and first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

• Geoff Hensley (McNicholas), point guard at Norwich in Vermont, led his team to the Ed Hockenbury Classic title and was named tournament's MVP.

• Four Northern Kentucky University women's soccer players earned All-Great Lakes Region honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America: Robyn Withers (Seton), Katie Hanck (Fairfield) and Kendra Zinser (Mercy) were named to the first team. Becky Schnieders (Seton) earned second-team honors.

• University of Southern Indiana senior setter Kim Boehmer (Roger Bacon) was named first-team Daktronics All-Region by the sports information directors of the Great Lakes Region.

• University of Cincinnati men's soccer players Josh Gardner and Tim Brown were selected to the 2003 All-Ohio team by a vote of the coaches in the Great Lakes Region. Anders Cedergren was selected for the second team.

• Miami captain Derek Edwardson was named New York Times national Division I hockey player of the week with two goals and an assist in a sweep of Ohio State last weekend that propelled the RedHawks to first place in the CCHA.



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