Connective Issues - Winter 2020

didn’t yet know how to live with my diagnosis or without football. It’s tough to hear that you aren’t superman anymore.” Allen continued working with the Bulldogs from the sidelines as a student coach after his diagnosis. At the time, it was a way to stay connected to his teammates and the game, but over time, it has turned into an unexpected career path. “I would have never considered coaching had the opportunity not been presented to me after my diagnosis. It turned on my passion for impacting young men and teaching life lessons through a game. I was able to get a head start on the skills, knowledge, and connections required to be a coach at the highest level,” said Allen. His accelerated experience and maturity let him to a professional coaching role by age 24 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), one of the most decorated conferences in NCAA football. Then, at the age of 26, like many with Marfan, Allen's aorta was in need of repair. Once again, Allen called up his mental toughness to help him persevere and thrive though the process. “Only you can get you through open heart surgery,” he said. “The physical limitations it places on you forces you to really see how mentally tough you are. I am forever grateful for that surgery because there is nothing in life that can shake me at this point.” Allen was back on the football field, coaching, three months after surgery, and the first day his physicians allowed it. Six months after surgery, he is planning ways to use his experience to improve the lives of other former athletes who have been taken out of competitive sports with a Marfan diagnosis. In a few quick years, Allen underwent enormous changes to transform from 18-year-old super athlete to 26-year-old super advocate. At any point during those eight years, Allen could have walked away. But it turns out he has a knack for navigating change for the better. “In football, especially in defense, we talk a lot about what happens in ‘sudden change situations,’” he says. “When the ball gets turned over, we have to dig our heels in and respond to adversity.”

Receiving a late diagnosis often results in a major change to a person’s life path. This can feel like a lot of doors closing very quickly, but Allen learned to keep his eyes open looking for those that opened because of his diagnosis. “You have to approach each day and activity a little differently than most people, but it’s not like you’ve joined the senior league. The best thing I do is surround myself with people who treat me the same as I was before the diagnosis,” says Allen. And that physical stature that his coaches had seen as ideal for college football? Now it gives him a platform to talk about Marfan syndrome and advocate for better athlete testing. Said Allen, “My size draws more attention and I am choosing to use that attention to create positive impact.”


Winter 2020

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