BROOKSVILLE — As he waits patiently to receive his diploma tonight from Nature Coast Technical High School, Lance LeDoux will be listening, along with the other 300 members of his graduating class, to speakers as they offer thoughts about facing the future with hope, courage and perseverance.
LeDoux will simply nod and smile to himself. That's because he knows well of what they speak.
Not that long ago, the 17-year-old couldn't have said that. But the sudden onset of a serious illness — and a long subsequent recuperation at a young age — made him realize that he would ultimately be in charge of his destiny.
"I learned that nothing can hold you down if you don't let it," LeDoux said this week. "If God has a plan for you, then you need to follow it to the end."
Ten years ago, LeDoux was about as normal a second-grader as anyone could imagine. He excelled in his schoolwork and was active in soccer, baseball and competitive kickboxing.
Then, one day early in the school year, LeDoux woke up feeling awful. He couldn't seem to get his legs under him. He hopped out of bed only to fall to the floor. His parents, Mary and Lance LeDoux, took him to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system.
For the next few months, LeDoux was unable to walk or even hold objects. For a time, he was blind in one eye.
"At times it felt like I was trapped in my body," LeDoux recalled. "I was angry because I had no control of anything."
Although he eventually was able to return to Spring Hill Elementary, where his mother was assistant principal, LeDoux's struggles worsened. At that point in a wheelchair, he was often tormented by bullies out of sight of authorities.
After 18 months of physical therapy, LeDoux regained enough of his strength to begin thinking about sports again. But by the time he enrolled in sixth grade, his weight had risen above 300 pounds, mostly because of steroids that doctors prescribed to battle the lingering effects of Guillain-Barré.
"I wanted to play football so bad," LeDoux said, "but I just wasn't in good enough shape yet."
During LeDoux's middle school years, former Nature Coast football coach Jamie Joyner worked with him to help him to trim down to an ideal playing weight. Two years later, LeDoux joined Nature Coast's junior varsity program, where excelled as an offensive lineman.
This school year, Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett nominated LeDoux for the national High School Rudy Award, which is given to athletes who demonstrate exemplary character, courage and commitment to their teams.
Next fall, LeDoux will enroll in business school at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., on a partial football scholarship. He hopes one day to become a cruise ship captain.
Looking back at all he has endured, LeDoux is happy to be able to impart some lessons to others. He is a volunteer tutor for exceptional education students at Brooksville Elementary, where his mother is now the principal. He often comes across youngsters who are frustrated and ready to give up.
LeDoux tells them not to.
"A lot of times it's just a matter of getting them to believe in themselves," he said. "In the end, that's what life really comes down to."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]