11/4/2022 11:33:00 AM
Kennesaw State defensive lineman Kelcy Allen is used to tackling opponents on the gridiron, but in 2019 he came across an opponent he would have to tackle for the rest of his life: diabetes. 

"My diagnosis humbled me and made me look at life from a perspective different than my own," Allen explains. "Everyone has a sad story, but it is how you look at adversity that truly defines you." 

The symptoms appeared days before the diagnosis. Allen, who was finishing his freshman year, sat to take his last final exam before heading home for the summer; however, the rising sophomore spent more time using the restroom than taking the exam.  

Allen thought to himself, "I’ve been really thirsty lately, so that’s why I am having to go all the time," he said.  

Little did he know that he was experiencing symptoms of a diagnosis that would change his life forever.  

In the days following the first symptoms, Allen went home to spend time with his family for summer break. He told his mom that he was constantly feeling thirsty after drinking gallons of water, having to use the bathroom frequently and was always tired, so his mother decided to check his sugar; the meter read "ERROR."  

The two immediately headed to the hospital, where Allen’s glucose levels registered above 500, which is 200 milligrams-per-deciliters higher than a dangerous glucose level. After running tests, the endocrinologist working with him sorrily informed him that he was diagnosed with type one diabetes, an illness that had gone unnoticed for the past few months. The redshirt-freshman’s heart sunk to his stomach, believing that he just received a diagnosis that would end his football career. 

"I was down for a good while, and I felt devastated and helpless," he said. "But I realized that if I go into it with a good attitude, I can do it if I just put my mind to it. I wasn’t ready to be done with sports and I’m not going to let an illness hold me back."  

While he battled through his journey with diabetes, he did not know that his no-quit attitude would impact the lives of the players and coaches around him.  

Not allowing his newfound diagnosis to control his dreams, the rising sophomore used the summer before the 2019 football season to get accustomed to the new lifestyle that diabetes presented; but the transition brought a great deal of adversity.  

The first obstacle came with a new diet. Having an illness that is heavily dependent on nutrition, the 276-pound lineman made a point to cut harmful foods, like fast food and soda, out of his diet. After long days overtaken by class and practice, it was much easier to run to the Student Center and snag some Chick-fil-a for dinner; nevertheless, he challenged himself to cook meals at home that would better suit his diabetic demands.   

Allen entered the 2019 football season at 230 pounds, nearly 50-pounds lighter than the previous season.  

The second obstacle presented itself on the football field as Allen battled to find his groove with diabetes. Practices were long and fast-paced, and the defensive lineman struggled to keep up in a position he had previously dominated in. Diabetes causes increased exhaustion and dehydration, and Allen certainly felt the effects. He battled to get through practices, often finding himself on a knee, a towel over his head, defeated day after day. But he kept coming back and making it work.  

"It broke my heart to see a kid have things taken away from them at no fault of their own," KSU Assistant Athletic Director for Sport Performance and Director of Football Strength and Conditioning Jim Kiritsy said. "So, I would just put my arm around him; because at that point, there’s nothing I can do but make sure he’s safe and feels like he’s supported, not judged." 

The third obstacle came when least expected. After learning how to better manage diabetes and finding his groove on the football field, Allen’s future started looking up; but his weight became a problem again, and Coach Kiritsy became extremely concerned about his player’s chances of seeing the field. Facing a 300-pound offensive lineman is no easy task with Allen’s 230-pound stature. With such an extreme weight difference, Allen would not be able to play effectively if he could not find a way to gain some of his weight back.  

Despite the continuous drawbacks, Allen refused to give up. He continued to show up every day and prove to his coaches and teammates that nothing – not even a diagnosis – could break him. He did not want special treatment and he did not want to be treated differently than any of his teammates because of his condition; however, he knew that something had to change if he was going to become the dominant player that his team needed to be again.  

Meanwhile, Allen’s battles taught his coaches and teammates a remarkable lesson about toughness and resilience. Despite his condition, he never batted an eyelash at a challenge, which did not go unnoticed. Even leaders on the team like senior Travis Bell, whom Allen looks to as a mentor, had something to learn from his drive.  

 "Kelcy Allen is a warrior on and off the field, and he exemplifies E.A.T (Effort, Attitude and Toughness – the mantra of KSU football) in everything that he does," Bell said. "Even though he is battling health issues daily, he’s still pursuing his passion for playing football."  

Allen did not want to let his family, teammates and coaches down. So, he decided to make the changes needed to play effectively again. The defensive tackle moved to the end position during the 2021 season, a position suited for a smaller defender, while working to build his strength back.  

The gym became a sanctuary for Allen as he journeyed through strength and conditioning. Even on days with no mandatory workouts, he hit the weight room every day ready to put in the extra work needed to build his strength back and put on some healthy weight.  

"He needed to train so his body could get in condition with his condition," Kiritsy said. "He got down to where we were worried about him squatting in the low 400’s. But then, this summer, he squats 510 pounds easily." 

By the football team’s fall camp in August 2022, Kelcy stood at 283 pounds. Despite being at his heaviest weight, the lineman moved like he was still his small self; the difference came on the football field.  

While working to overcome all the adversity that diabetes threw at him, Allen’s mindset became a model for toughness for many years to come at KSU, and a teaching moment for future athletes. 

"He’s never allowed his circumstances to take away from how happy he is for all of his teammates, and I think he ground a new purpose through his condition," Kiritsy said. "Because of Kelcy, I can encourage the next generation to demand as much of themselves as he did." 

All the hardships that Allen faced over the last four years paid off when he stepped foot on the field for his senior debut in the 2022 season. As the Owls faced Samford in the 2022 season-opening game, Allen had the opportunity to highlight his power on the field. On a forced fumble by his teammate Juandarion Silas, Allen picked up his second fumble recovery at KSU and the first since his diagnosis.  

Of course, Allen gave all glory to God for guiding him to become the tough man and player that he is today.  

"I do this for all the people whose dreams were cut short by an illness," Allen reflects. "There are people in this world that never got to live a normal life because they were born with diabetes." 

"I have seen six and seven-year-olds in the hospital with amputated arms and legs who have to prick their fingers and take insulin shots every day," he said. "These kids have never gotten to live a normal life, and here I am still going out and doing what I love to do every day," Kelcy reflects. "When you put it into perspective, I’m really blessed to live the life that I do, even with diabetes." 
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