Each of the six finalists for the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 1.
University: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Vitals: 5-11, 175-pound sophomore defensive back
Quick Hits: One of 10 children to Richard and Ivy Rios, Marcus has seven brothers and two sisters. … Was a 4-star recruit and one of the top 25 cornerbacks in the country coming out of high school. Enrolled early at UCLA and participated in 2012 spring practice. … Saw action in nine games as a true freshman on special teams and as a reserve in the secondary. … Missed all of the 2013 season.
It took doctors three surgeries to finally figure out what Marcus Rios was up against. His condition, Aspergillosis, was extremely rare and deadly. Rios was told of the 12 previous confirmed cases similar to his, eight had died and two of the four who survived initially later died. It quickly became apparent Rios was in a fight for his life.
INSIDE THE STORY
Initially Rios believed he had a sinus infection. But as the symptoms and pain escalated to the point where sleep was impossible and it was hard to even see, playing football took a back seat. But it was the resiliency instilled by parents and the positive attitude and support of his family and teammates that allowed Rios to dream of one day returning to the field for the Bruins.
Richard Rios and his wife Ivy quit their jobs and left their Sacramento home to set up camp at UCLA Medical Center to support their son. His room, where he spent 28 days under intense care of specialists, overlooked Spaulding Field so he could watch his teammates practice. Football was secondary now, this was a matter of life and death. But during those dark days, being able to see his teammates provided Rios with the inspiration to keep fighting.
THE RARE JOURNEY
Rios and his father would rise each morning at 7 a.m. during their stay in the medical center to watch the Bruins practice. It was at times a harsh reminder of what he was missing, but also served as an inspiration.
Because of his treatment and several surgeries, Rios lost nearly 50 pounds and this once prized recruit was down to 130 pounds and would have to build his body back up if he wanted to play football again.
But he was alive. And although his condition would need continued monitoring and possibly additional surgeries, Rios could start down a road to recovery.
The cornerback returned to the field for the 2014 season, earned playing time and made a season-saving interception in UCLA’s 34-32 victory over Cal only months after being told he might not walk out of the medical center.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Everything felt foreign, brand new. I’ve had a lot of surgeries, my freshman year and stuff, so I’ve had to start over. But this time was different. I was really, really weak. I really started from ground zero. I knew I had to work hard this offseason, so that’s what I did.” – Marcus Rios prior to 2014 season
“We don’t fear things that we can’t control. That kid has been through a lot at a very early age and he stayed positive. It had been a long, long time since I saw him smile on a football field. So to see him smile like that, it just really put into perspective everything he’s been through. It’s been an incredible ordeal.” – Richard Rios