Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.
University: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Vitals: 6-0, 195-pound junior cornerback
Quick Hits: Rios was a finalist for the 2015 Rare Disease Champion award after overcoming his battle with an extremely rare disease and returning to the field for the 2015 season despite losing 50 pounds during his battle. He came back bigger and stronger for the 2015 Bruins season and earned one of the starting cornerback spots. Rios played in all 13 games this past season for UCLA, recording 49 total tackles including 30 solo stops. Rios didn’t have an interception, but totaled seven pass break-ups.
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 before returning to participate in all 12 games in 2014 on special teams and part-time duty in the secondary.
Rios’ story was featured on the television series “Monster Inside Me” earlier this year on the Animal Planet channel.
INSIDE THE STORY
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.
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. Rios could barely get out of bed, and simple everyday tasks we all take for granted were impossible.
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. During those dark days, being able to see his teammates practice provided Rios with the inspiration to keep fighting.
THE RARE JOURNEY
It was made clear to Rios when he was admitted to the UCLA Medical Center that he might not survive. The infection that had invaded Rios’ brain usually gets to a critical level because of a weakened immune system.
What confused the doctors even more was Rios’ immune system was strong and healthy. 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.
The several surgeries and treatments left Rios’ body ravaged. An elite 180-pound athlete when arrived at UCLA in 2012, he lost nearly 50 pounds and this one-time prized DB recruit was down to 130 pounds.
But he was alive. And although his condition requires continued monitoring with the possibly additional surgeries, Rios was a healthy 195 pounds as a starting cornerback this season for the Bruins.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I’ve came a long way (since the illness). I always knew the day I got out of the hospital, I would work hard every day, push my teammates. I focused on putting in the time to get better. That’s what was always expected of me when I came here.” – Marcus Rios on starting for the Bruins in 2015
“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’s been an incredible ordeal.” – Richard Rios