Athletics & Recreation / News

Sidelined by cancer, lacrosse player makes delayed DU debut

Drew Babb, No. 15, made his long-awaited Pioneers debut during DU's season opener against Ohio State. Photo: John Babb/DU Athletics

Drew Babb is champing at the bit to return his life to a state of normalcy. So far, his lacrosse career at the University of Denver could best be described as one big pain in the neck. And unfortunately, it was far from a laughing matter.

After defeating Hodgkin’s lymphoma and undergoing hip surgery due to issues arising from his cancer treatments, Babb completed a long journey last week when he made his long-awaited Pioneers debut during DU’s season opener against Ohio State. Babb, who missed what should have been his first two collegiate seasons due to illness and injury, finally will make his home debut this weekend, as the Pioneers play Michigan on Saturday and Robert Morris on Sunday in the DU Face-Off Classic at Peter Barton Stadium.

“When times get tough, when it’s a hard practice or I’m winded, I think back to how lucky I am to be playing now versus the last two years sitting on the sideline,” Babb says. “It definitely puts things in perspective. I got all my treatment at Children’s Hospital, so every day before practice I say a quick prayer for all those guys. I’m done with it, but all those kids are still going through it. I can get through a tough practice if they are still going through all that stuff.”

Babb graduated from Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., just a short drive from the DU campus. He was eager to continue his athletic career essentially in his backyard.

But the last half of Babb’s high school senior year, during the spring of 2009, was marked by a troublesome ache and swelling in his neck. Also a standout basketball player, Babb first noticed the problem during hoops season. It continued throughout lacrosse season, and following a series of inconclusive tests, his diagnosis was confirmed that July.

It was a daunting situation for a kid who had not yet turned 18. But Babb was determined to attack the illness the same way he attacked opposing defenses.

“Honestly, it didn’t ever freak me out too much,” Babb says. “The doctors at Children’s Hospital did a great job of explaining everything, giving me the whole plan about everything that was going to happen. Even though the signs had showed a while ago, we still caught it pretty early.”

Babb immediately began chemotherapy, getting treatments on consecutive Fridays for several months. Once the treatments were completed, another issue arose in his left hip.

Babb was diagnosed with avascular necrosis (AVN), a debilitating condition of the joints borne of many causes, including steroid use. Babb had been prescribed a steroid to deal with the effects of chemotherapy. Although he was able to rehabilitate the AVN in his left hip, Babb soon developed the condition more seriously in his right hip.

This time he required surgery, which ultimately robbed Babb of what should have been his comeback season last year as DU made its first appearance in the NCAA Final Four. At this point, the first doubts about whether he would be able to continue his career began to materialize.

“He and I talked a lot about that at first, about understanding the toughness and that he had to take it small steps at a time when he was first going through chemo,” says head coach Bill Tierney. “There was a lot of doubt. We talked about the future and the possibility of him being a student-assistant coach, putting lacrosse in perspective with real life. He’s got an amazing family. His dad, John, and his mom, Pam, are just great, great people. We talked a lot about being thankful about the things that are really important. And if lacrosse happens to re-emerge, good for all of us.”

Throughout the ordeal, Babb won the respect of his teammates not only for his courageous attitude, but also for failing to miss a single team practice, save for the occasions when he was getting treatment.

Finally cleared to start practicing in fall 2011, Babb gradually grew stronger in anticipation of the 2012 campaign. Tierney moved Babb from midfield to defense, in part to relieve some stress on his hips, but also to shore up the Pioneers’ inexperienced back line.

“For the most part, I think on my good days when my legs are feeling good and my hips are feeling good, I’m pretty much back to how I was before,” Babb says. “The biggest thing for me is that I’m still learning how to play defense. That’s still very new to me. But I think physically, on days I’m fresh or good-weather days, I’m back to as good as where I was before.”


Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *