08/31/07 — Mr. Wuff revealed

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Mr. Wuff revealed

By Kenneth Fine
Published in Sports on August 31, 2007 2:56 PM

Calvin Cole might have died in late-December 2001 had his brother, Michael, not seen the warning signs.

He could have missed college.

He wouldn't have been North Carolina State's Mr. Wuf.

But the 20-year-old would rather not think about the insulin pump tucked in his pocket -- at least not until he breaks character.

Don't ask him about the night the doctor said, "diabetes."

There is little room for vulnerability in this Division I mascot's fourth-quarter act.

Cole would rather talk about life -- the second half of a Saturday night thriller at Carter-Finley Stadium, the birthday party appearances, finishing third in last year's NCAA mascot competition.

After all, that is what a university symbol does -- even the one with Type I Diabetes.

Between the pep rallies, game nights and practices, Cole has little time to reflect on the events that led him there -- or the fact the he is "lucky" to have made it past his 15th birthday.

But then the clock winds to zero and he sheds "the wolf."

He can no longer hide the plastic tube feeding life into his torso -- a constant reminder, he says, of the night the disease nearly overcame him.

It was a typical winter in Old Fort, the North Carolina mountain town Cole calls home.

High school classes had given way to holiday break, but it was far from a happy time for the teenager.

His clothing did not fit as it once did.

The color in his face was fading.

It was becoming clear to those around him that something was wrong.

"The only reason I went to the doctor was because my brother noticed I had been losing a lot of weight and that I was kind of pale," Cole said. "I just didn't think anything about it. I didn't give it much thought, that there might be something medically wrong."

But as the family doctor approached, it was apparent something was.

"I remember me and my mom were in this room while the doctor was looking at all the tests," Cole said. "He comes in and his face is just white. He was nervous. I could tell."

And then he said the word.

"I didn't hardly know what (diabetes) was, but me and my mom both just broke down and cried," Cole said. "They put insulin in me and sent me off to a bigger hospital."

The severity of his condition had still had not set in -- not after the diagnosis was made, not while being rushed to Mission St. Joseph's in nearby Asheville moments after the insulin took hold.

"I was just in disbelief," Cole said. "I mean, I wasn't bleeding. It wasn't like I had been hit by a car or shot. I appeared normal."

But after a few words with a specialist, he finally accepted what

he had tried since diagnosis to downplay.

"They said if I hadn't come in, I was probably within three or four days of slipping into a coma and dying," Cole said. "They said I would have died on Christmas Day. Right then, it kind of set in for me."

The days and weeks that followed were trying -- the meetings with nutritionists, meal plans and injections.

"I remember I was sitting on a hospital bed when they showed me how to give myself a shot," he said. "I just pinched some fat on my arm. Man, it was awkward."

The experts assured him a "normal life" was still possible, that with the right daily routine he would endure.

So, with an eye on his blood-sugar level, Cole rejoined his high school basketball team.

"I was constantly working out, but just trying to keep my blood sugar at a normal level was challenging," he said. "I didn't want to pass out and have a seizure."

A few years and more than 1,500 pin pricks later, he is still bound to the disease, only now, a small tube filters insulin into his stomach from a pump tucked close to his hip.

Cole is still an athlete.

Only now, when the temperature inside his costume breaks 100 degrees, each somersault or cheer is accompanied by caution.

There were only a few minutes remaining in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game and the Wolfpack men's basketball team was on the verge of pulling off another major upset -- the defeat of No. 1-ranked North Carolina -- and an automatic bid to the NCCA tournament.

The N.C. State faithful inside the St. Pete Times Forum were loud, hoping their cries might pull an exhausted starting five to another victory.

None seemed to realize that all the while, the school's "No. 1 fan" was in the locker room checking his blood-sugar.

Diabetes does not wait for a television time-out, Cole said -- not even for Mr. Wuf.

"When I was out there for the whole half just sweating and sweating, I got pretty dehydrated," he said. "My sugar had dropped pretty low, and I could feel it."

By the time he finished his Gatorade and emerged from the tunnel leading to the hardwoods, UNC senior forward Reyshawn Terry had silenced the red and white with a three-point shot that put the Tar Heels on top 78-72 with just under three minutes on the clock.

"When I came back out, we were down. You could feel it," Cole said. "I was pretty bummed out. It was like I had gotten taken out of the game."

In a way, he felt as though his condition had caused him to let his university down.

But Cole said he has come to accept his limitations -- and that determination can only take you so far when the wear and tear sets in.

"That's the one thing about diabetes -- it just creeps up on you," he said. "And no matter how many fluids you take down, you're dehydrated."

His parents still worry from time to time.

And while close friends are "shocked" that he refuses to let the disease slow him down, Cole said he has come to realize that most of those he greets in the stands have no idea what he faces day to day.

He prefers it that way.

"People watching my games, I don't think they see me out there and wonder, 'Is he going to be all right?' They are just cheering me on," Cole said. "They are not thinking, 'This guy has a medical disorder he has to constantly watch.' They are just thinking, 'It's the wolf.'"

So whether he is crowd surfing or taking a playful swing at the opposing team's mascot, he tries his best to ensure his fans never have a reason to worry.

The idea of Mr. Wuf is simply too important to take a back seat to anything, he said -- his own health included.

"Just walking around the bookstore and seeing all the pictures of Mr. Wuf on hats and shirts, knowing that I am a physical representation of that, it means a lot," Cole said. "Sometimes, I feel like being a symbol and trying to do it the best I can makes me better."

Being the center of attention for the few moments before game time is the "perfect medicine," he added.

And he hopes that in some small way, he is setting an example for others who are limited by their bodies.

"I have learned that I am able to make diabetes a part of my life, but I am not letting it make all the decisions," Cole said. "You really can do anything if you keep your mind focused and always keep high hopes and spirits. You don't have to let yourself become a victim."

He knows he never will.

"I really don't think diabetes should be the first thing that comes to my mind when I'm deciding whether or not to do something," he said. "It's all about what I want to do on the inside. I might never be in a pie-eating contest, but I can be the wolf."