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TONY CASTRO Hernando Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:02 PM

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For some Hernando County student/athletes, the top of any podium might as well be Mount Everest.

For some the summit atop the climb is seen as unrealistic and unattainable.

For others, it's not all about being the next LeBron James in basketball or attempting to emulate Michael Jordan.

For some, living life to the fullest – despite all the obstacles along the way – and coping with life's journey is most critical.

One such athletic journey – filled with peaks and valleys – belongs to Lance Robert LeDoux.

Lance is the younger of two children to Citrus County residents Lance and Mary LeDoux.

He was born in Citrus Memorial Hospital in Lecanto and currently works there raising some extra cash for college.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound LeDoux isn't your typical jock.

Lance's mom is the principal of Brooksville Elementary. Her children, in turn, come from a learned background.

Lance's sister, Maggie, graduated as Nature Coast's salutatorian.

LeDoux, 18, recently graduated from Brooksville's NCT campus and signed to play football next season with NAIA's Bethel College in North Newton, Kan.

LeDoux studied in the engineering cluster on the California Street campus, graduating with a fine 3.68 GPA.

LeDoux whittled his choices of college to Wofford, Georgia Southern, The Citadel, Gardner-Webb, Bethel College and SUNY-Maritime College.

He initially signed with Maritime – he aspires to become a ship captain one day.

But after he signed, "It's like I fell off their radar. Maritime never called me or stayed in contact with me," recalled a puzzled LeDoux.

When LeDoux sat down and figured out how much he would owe upon graduation – even with tuition assistance – he was stunned to say the least. At that point, attending Maritime was no longer an option.

Interestingly, Central head coach Mike Einspahr – who used to coach at Bethel – suggested to the LeDoux family to take a second look at Bethel.

Upon a visit – some 21 hours away – LeDoux was hooked.

"The minute I walked down one hallway it was like Nature Coast except with different colors," smiled LeDoux. "I didn't know anybody there, but no one ignored me. I ended up spending four nights there.

"What I really liked? The guys on the team go through drills with a sense of purpose. In my book, you practice how you play," admitted LeDoux. "Everyone is all business in practice and then they let their hair down afterward. It's a lot like Nature Coast."

LeDoux hopes to line up along the Threshers' offensive line beginning this fall.

"I prefer playing O-line," said LeDoux. "There's nothing like setting the tone for a game by punching the guy across the way from you in the mouth, allowing us to score a touchdown.

"I enjoy life in the trenches – that's football," adds LeDoux. "A guy like (running back) Matt (Breida) gets all the notice. But he's not the one driving a guy back five yards on two rolled up ankles so he can wiggle through a six-inch hole."

On summing up his career at NCT, "That's a hard question to answer," remarked LeDoux. "We had four different playbooks in four years – that's difficult for anybody. I was the guy that came from a middle school where 50-of-52 guys made the team at West Hernando. I was one of them not to make it.

"From seventh grade on, all I wanted to do was play for Coach (Jamie) Joyner at Nature Coast. I owe Coach Joyner a lot. He gave me a chance. If I didn't play (football), I could've gone the other way."

Remarkably, LeDoux almost never made it through third grade, let alone play football for the Sharks.

As a youngster, LeDoux remembered his first sport – kickboxing at 5 years old.

"It was pretty cool," he said.

Then came soccer. After one Sunday practice, LeDoux didn't feel right. His mother initially thought he was just sore from practice. It was much worse.

LeDoux, who was in third grade, was stricken by the first of two immune deficiency diseases that nearly killed him.

Guillain–Barré syndrome is defined as, "an acute polyneuropathy, a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. Ascending paralysis, weakness beginning in the feet and hands and migrating toward the trunk, is the most typical symptom, and some subtypes cause change in sensation or pain as well as dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.

"It can cause life-threatening complications, in particular if the respiratory muscles are affected or if there is autonomic nervous system involvement. The disease is usually triggered by an infection."

Guillain–Barré syndrome is rare, at 1–2 cases per 100,000 people annually, but is the most common cause of acute non-trauma-related paralysis in the world.

In laymen's terms, Lance's white blood cells targeted nerve tissues.

From 7-9 years old, LeDoux was confined to a wheelchair. As a result of the disease, he was paralyzed from the neck down.

He couldn't feed himself. He couldn't even grasp a pencil. Additionally, he was blind in one eye.

His mother Mary vividly recalls the first day he fell ill while she was the acting principal of Spring Hill Elementary.

"We all thought he had the flu. He spent the first afternoon crawled up in a ball underneath my desk. Because of my commitments in school I decided to stay at school instead of taking my son immediately to the hospital," she recalled with her voice trembling with emotion. "You don't think I've relived the day over and over? I still have a tremendous sense of guilt."

Mary LeDoux recalls, "Once Lance was at All Children's Hospital in Tampa, none of the doctors had an answer. What was weird? It was post-9-11 and Lance was one five known cases – and they were all from Florida."

Doctors eventually diagnosed Lance with Guillain–Barré – a disease that is common among the elderly.

Recently one of TV's most iconic figures, 86-year-old Andy Griffith, died from a heart attack dealing with the complications of Guillain–Barré.

"Lance went from being fine to being confined in a wheelchair. We had to get an occupational therapist," said Mrs. LeDoux. "He couldn't walk, he couldn't see out of one eye and he was introduced to a world of IVs and IGs and was being treated with steroids.

"In those days, we prayed a lot. What he loved most was football, so we dangled that stick. We said once he got better, he could try out. It really was a source of inspiration," she added.

Slowly the meds began to help regenerate tissues. Lance initially began receiving tingling sensations along his limbs. Then he meticulously learned to walk utilizing crutches.

What followed was a return of his motor skills.

Despite a huge improvement, LeDoux suffered yet another physical setback as a fifth-grader.

He was diagnosed with ITP – another immune deficiency disease that attacks blood platelets and creates huge bruises. By simply poking Lance, he'd severely bruise.

Lance's recovery led to him being homeschooled for nine weeks.

Following his fifth-grade year at Brooksville Elementary, LeDoux entered West Hernando – where he tried out for football, but was cut.

Instead, he concentrated in track and field. He threw discus as a seventh- and eighth-grader and hurled the shot put as an eighth-grader.

Upon matriculating to NCT, LeDoux attained his first dream – playing at the junior varsity level as a freshman and sophomore. He was promoted to the varsity squad at the tail end of his second campaign.

LeDoux concluded his gridiron career as a two-year starter at strong tackle, also playing guard as a senior.

While he was taking dual enrollment courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College, LeDoux wrestled as a junior and even threw the discus and shot put as a junior and senior.

"Looking back, we were so devastated when Lance didn't make the (football) team at West Hernando," said Mrs. LeDoux. "But really he achieved everything he wanted at Nature Coast. All his dreams, including being a team captain as a senior, came through."

His mother believes one word can sum up her son: perseverance.

"He's a special kid," she said, her voice again cracking with emotion. "Perseverance is tattooed on his arm. Obviously, I'm very proud of the man he has become. There's a lot to be proud of. "He's had a lot of people help him along the way – I believe that's a testament to Hernando County."

Bethel College is some 1,300 miles from Brooksville. Lance LeDoux understands the distance.

"My parents are going to try to make half my games, which is great," said LeDoux. "But with the technology that's available they could stream the game on the computer, too."

Before departing to the campus near Wichita, Kan., LeDoux addressed what his legacy was at NCT.

"I don't think I have a legacy. It's not like I have a bunch of D-I offers in front of me," noted LeDoux. "I just made sure things were done right in our workouts. The back of my NCT shirt says 'Family' with two chains padlocked together. I believe in family.

"Nature Coast football created a strong bond for me. It's one I'll never forget."

What about almost not making it past third grade?

"Don't take me wrong, I don't want to ignore my past," conceded LeDoux. "But I don't want it to define me. If it (disease) comes back; it comes back – I'll deal with it.

"For all of us the future is an unknown, I just want to find a way to make the best of it."

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