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 Pennsylvania
Vitals: 5-10, 195-pound junior former wide receiver
Quick Hits: Football was always very important to the native of Arizona. But Germinaro chose to come more than halfway across the country to attend college because no matter what happened with football he would always have a Penn education.
Little did he know that thought process would turn out to be the best decision of his young life. … A former two-time All-State honorable mention selection, Germinaro did not play for the Quakers his first two seasons but was working hard during the offseason to get ready for the 2015 season.
The date December 9, 2014 is ingrained into the memory of Germinaro. That was the date of an episode that led to his diagnosis with the rare disease of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
INSIDE THE STORY
Football was all Germinaro ever knew. After not playing his first two years, moving up the depth chart through hard work was Germinaro’s goal for the offseason prior to spring practice. During a study break from finals, Germinaro and a few of his teammates went to the indoor facility on campus to get in some work.
As the wide receiver played pitch-and-catch the right side of his body started to feel “funky”. But he kept running routes and working when suddenly he could not. His whole face went numb. Thinking he was just cold, Germinaro didn’t think anything serious was going on. When his arm went totally numb and he couldn’t lift it he started to become concerned.
The rest of his teammates went to lift, but Germinaro went to the training room and started looking up stroke symptoms on his phone. The Penn trainer took a look at him and immediately called for an ambulance and he was taken to the ER at the UPenn Hospital on campus.
THE RARE JOURNEY
Germinaro’s episode was initially diagnosed as a stroke. But after a series of MRI’s CAT Scan’s, spinal taps and blood work during his hospital stay, Germinaro was eventually diagnosed with MS.
Initially Germinaro was cleared to start spring practice but contact was out of the question. For a kid who worked his whole life to play college football, the realization that his football playing days, as he knew them, were over was a tough pill to swallow for Germinaro and his family.
Germinaro talked with new Quakers head coach Ray Priore, a long-time assistant at Penn before being elevated to the top job. As an assistant Priore had recruited Germinaro and during that process the coach told him he was choosing the best Plan B because you will get a Penn education.
Because of his MS, Priore told Germinaro he would prefer him to not try and play but instead asked him to become a student-coach on staff. Germinaro did a little bit of everything to stay involved with the team but his main responsibility was assisting the offensive coordinator and working with the freshmen wideouts.
The fact he wasn’t wearing a uniform didn’t matter. Germinaro felt he was contributing and part of a magical 2015 Penn season that saw the Quakers beat Villanova and rise from a 1-3 start to share the Ivy League title.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I’m one of the types of people who need a strong support system, and I’m not afraid to admit that. I enjoy the family atmosphere of a football team, and even when I couldn’t play my teammates made me feel like I belonged. I don’t like when people feel sorry for me. Having this disease is not an excuse. I want to educate people on this disease and bring awareness to MS. Through this I’ve realized everything happens for a reason and it happened to me because I’m equipped to deal with it.” – Kaleb Germinaro
“It has been uplifting for our team to see somebody who was on our team who is unable to play now but is still out there doing everything he can to help make this team better.” – Alek Torgerson, Penn Quarterback