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Isaiah Austin encourages positivity in overcoming challenges

2017/12/14 13:33:15

By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter

"You have the ability in yourself to find the positive in a negative situation you go through, I did it, that doesn't mean you cannot do it," Isaiah Austin, a professional basketball player diagnosed with a genetic disorder, told CNA in a recent interview.

"We are all humans, we are going to face difficulty each and every day in our lives. Just look at the glass half full instead of half empty," he added.

The 7-foot-1 Austin is more than qualified to make such comment.

He was a college all-star at Baylor University and thought to be a likely first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft until he was diagnosed just days before the draft with Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the heart.

Though his playing career was over, at least temporarily, Austin still had his name called as a ceremonial pick midway through the first round at the NBA draft in June 2014 and was presented with an NBA cap by Commissioner Adam Silver.

Austin is also blind in his right eye from a previous injury while doing a dunk in middle school, but it was the Marfan syndrome diagnosis that kept him out of the game.

He was cleared to once again play basketball in November 2016 after his condition was found to have stabilized, however, and he signed and played with a team in Serbia early this year.

The New Taipei-based Yulon Luxgen Dinos, one of seven teams in Taiwan's professional Super Basketball League (SBL), reached a deal with the 24-year-old Nov. 8 for the league's 15th season that opened Dec. 2.

Unfortunately, Austin hurt his right hip, which could sideline him for more than a month during last week's regular season game. Although surgery is not required, Austin said he is scheduled to leave the team next week to do rehab back in the United States.

The Dinos already found Austin's replacement, but expressed hope that he could stay in Taiwan longer. "The whole team loves him, and we feel sad for him. He is the best foreign import player I have seen," said Dinos head coach Wei Yung-tai (魏永泰).

"He is easy to get along with, always practices very hard and fits in our system, and his story is an inspiration for all. We hope we can have him back as soon as he regains his health," Wei added.

During Tuesday's interview, Austin said he really enjoys playing in Taiwan, and loves the program in the Dinos. "If the team wants to call me back, I will come back with open arms," he said.

But right now, his main focus is to regain his health so that he can still have an impact on any court, he went on.

Though only here for a month so far, Austin said he really likes Taiwan and shows his gratitude to his teammates who helped him adapt to his new environment.

"I eat a lot of spicy hotpots in Taiwan," he said, thanking his teammates for that. However, he said he has no intention of trying Taiwan's famous stinky tofu.

"I don't like tofu, whether it is stinky or not," he said.

When told about his Chinese nickname "勵志哥," which literally means he is a man of inspiration to others, Austin said he is honored to be called that.

He said he never knew he had the syndrome until five days before the 2014 NBA draft.

"Most doctors told me I should be passing out, or skipping a beat in my heart, but through my life I have never experienced these signs," he said.

Facing such dramatic change only days before the biggest date in his life, Austin said he just had to deal with it.

"I already had been through so much in my life by that time. That's a part of my life I have no control over, God placed it in my life, I have to push on with my life."

"Basketball is just an aspect of my life, it is never who I was," he stressed.

Due to the syndrome, Austin stopped playing basketball for two years and had been through a lot of check-ups. But he has never taken any medicine because doctors found that he has shown no symptoms that are normally seen in patients with the same syndrome.

At the end, doctors determined that he was only affected mildly and cleared him to play again.

After being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, Austin founded the Isaiah Austin Foundation in 2014 to provide support for awareness and research into Marfan syndrome and those affected by it.

"What we try to do is to strive to spring awareness of the syndrome around the world, at the same time share my story and my testimony on how I have overcome obstacles to achieve success," he said.

He regularly does a lot of motivational speeches in U.S. to encourage those who have the same syndrome to never give up on their dreams.

Many families of patients who have the syndrome were upset with Austin when he was cleared to play, he said, arguing that him playing again could give people with the same disease false hope.

"That's not what I was trying to do at all. I am trying to tell the children to take the right precautions and measures and to have health checks," he said.

"In the end, it is about the person's happiness, not the happiness of everybody around you. That's the reason I tried to come back to court, I have to find my own happiness."

Austin is now considered one of the candidates for the Philippines national team as a naturalized player to boost the team's competitiveness. But he said he is open to all options and will definitely consider joining the Taiwan national team should the chance arise.

Austin encouraged all who are going through anything tough in their life to know they have the power within to push through.

(By Joseph Yeh)
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