AC Player Battles Disease To Play BasketballJanuary 28, 2005
ANDERSON, S.C. -- Nolan Gottlieb is living a dream. But he’s had to battle through a nightmare of a disease to get there. Gottlieb, a junior guard on the Anderson College basketball team, was born with cystic fibrosis, but the chronic and progressive disease has not stopped him from pursing his dream of playing college basketball. “I’ve got no choice,” Gottlieb said. “I can get up off my rear and go out and work or be at home in bed dying at age 45. It’s either live or die. With the goals, I’ve set for myself, there’s no way I can just sit around. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. “It’s not my place to waste an opportunity that God has given me. If he’s going to allow me to do those things, it’s my calling. If people come to the games and see me doing things that modern medicine says I should not be able to do, that’s a ministry.” Gottlieb, a native of Dublin, Ga., played three sports – football, basketball, and baseball – until his freshman year of high school when he decided to concentrate on basketball. “CF is a genetic disorder,” he said. “It affects the lungs. The lungs retain too much water, so there’s a lot of infection. It’s difficult to exchange air. CF also stunts your growth. When I was a freshman in high school, I was 5-4, 95 pounds. The spring of sophomore year I got a feeding tube put into stomach because I wasn’t getting enough calories. The disease was taking calories away from me. Five or six nights a week for two and a half years, I got an extra 2,500 calories a night.” The feeding tube worked. Gottlieb started growing again. Today, he is 6-1 and weighs 150 pounds. He credits the physical work he does as a basketball player for helping him manage his disease in a more effective way. “I wish there was a way to get my story out to other CF patients,” he said. “I tell the younger kids with CF to stay as active as possible. That’s been the biggest thing for me.” Gottlieb, who plans to be an athletic trainer after earning his degree in kinesiology, came to Anderson College as a junior varsity player. “I came up here on a visit with a friend who was getting recruited for baseball and really liked the place,” he said. “I met Coach (Kevin) Pederson. I told him I wanted to come to college to play basketball. He told me to come play junior varsity. I didn’t think it got any better than playing, especially with my health situation. I told Coach Pederson and Coach (Doug) Novak that I wanted them to treat me the same as any other player. I told them I would let them know when I couldn’t go anymore, and that until I said something, I expected them to push me just as hard as hard as the other players. They were both fine with that. The coaches at Anderson College have been great.” Pederson, who now coaches Anderson’s nationally ranked women’s team, had concerns about Gottlieb’s health but was overwhelmed by his positive attitude. “Nolan was so determined to play basketball and he possessed such a passion for the game that there was no way we could deny him the opportunity,” Pederson said. “Since he has been at Anderson College, he has been an uplifting to everyone around him. He’s always upbeat and has his own special way of making you laugh.” Gottlieb played significant minutes for Anderson’s first two junior varsity squads. He also entertained the crowd at Anderson’s midnight basketball event on Oct. 15, 2003, when he made an appearance as Anderson’s “Secret Weapon” and came close to accomplishing one of his life-long goals – dunking a basketball. Because of his work ethic, positive attitude, and ability to entertain his fellow students, Gottlieb is one of the most popular members of the Anderson College student body. Last summer, Gottlieb approached Novak about helping the varsity team. “I came to Anderson as a JV player and never expected to play varsity,” Gottlieb said. “This summer, I told Coach Novak that it had always been my dream to play college basketball and being on a varsity team at Division II level would be the ultimate for me. I told him to keep me in mind if you need somebody else. In the preseason, I was in the individual groups. After two weeks, he told me to start coming for the early morning workouts. I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s been great.” Novak says Gottlieb’s greatest trait is his desire to succeed. “Nolan earned a spot on the varsity basketball team this year with his persistence and work ethic, not his playing ability,” Novak said. “He is relentless in the pursuit of his goals while always putting others first. Nolan understands the concept of team better than anyone I have ever coached. Whether it is playing on the scout team or washing the uniforms, no job is too big or too small for Nolan. Whatever he lacks in size and strength, he more that makes up for it with shear determination. “There are no statistics that can measure Nolan's contribution to our program. We are truly blessed to have him on our team.” Because of his CF, Gottlieb must take a lengthy list of medications on a daily basis. “I take three aerosol treatments daily, antibiotics, and digestive enzymes because CF clogs the pancreas so it can’t excrete enzymes,” he said. “I don’t have to do as much physical therapy as most CF patients because of the running I do.” Gottlieb received a major scare last fall after a pickup game in the Abney Center. “I started coughing up blood,” he said. “That had never happened before. The doctors said it wasn’t normal but it also wasn’t uncommon. I went to Atlanta and they did a procedure to fix a weak blood vessel in my lungs.” Through 15 games, Gottlieb had yet to play a minute this season for the Trojans. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing to prepare every day in practice. “I would like to play but I don’t expect to play,” he said. “I know even if I didn’t have CF that we have good players here at Anderson, players who are better than me. But if I’m called on, I wouldn’t have any hesitation about going in there. I practice. I know I can do it. I go into every game ready to play.” Gottlieb comes from an athletic family. His father Stuart played offensive tackle for four years in the NFL. His younger brother Tyler is a 6-5, 240-pound freshman pitcher at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. Tyler does not have CF. “My long-term prognosis is good, but I can’t say that for everybody with CF,” Gottlieb said. “There are worst cases than mine, and there are better cases than mine. For a large percentage of CF patients, the prognosis is not good.” The discomfort of living with CF on a daily basis has not dampened Gottlieb’s spirit or attitude, and he continues to work so when his number is called, he will be ready. “Even if I don’t ever get to play, being on the varsity team at Anderson College is a dream come true,” he said.