James Howard, Jarod
Barndollar and Instructor Lenard
Tae Kwon Do Teen Beating Odds
In Face Of Rare Illness
Teen uses martial arts to maintain & sharpen motor functions.
By Larry W. Wical
ask his friends, family members or fellow Tae Kwon Do students
- Jarod Barndollar is not your typical teenager. On
a daily basis, Jarod faces trials and tribulations that most
teens would find unfathomable, while fighting a rare condition
called Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), also known as "Lorenzo's
Imagine the heartache he and his family faced when told that Jarod, at a very
tender age, would not live to see his teen years. Try to envision the
thought that every day spent must be guarded and cherished, as if each day
will be his last.
Add to those thoughts the reality that Jarod would lose his eyesight, hearing
and nearly all motor functions before his tenth birthday, if he would even
be lucky enough to reach that milestone.
Now, take all of those somber images and give them a swift, hard punch in the
face. That's exactly what Jarod has been doing for the past eight years
of his life.
Jarod, a 17-year-old Cincinnati resident, studies Tae Kwon Do at eastern Cincinnati's
Tiger's Lair Martial Arts, while also attending school at the Ohio State School
For the Blind in Columbus, Oh. Jarod is the first to cringe at the thought
of being called "special." He would prefer to be termed "unique" or "exceptional," if
termed at all. But, ask those in the medical field, and they would be
quicker to use the designations "miraculous" or "anomalous."
By taking up Tae Kwon Do training years ago, Jarod and his parents invested
in the hope and dream that he could keep his ailing condition at bay by strengthening
his mind while keeping his body solid and flexible - areas that are incrementally
destroyed by ALD. It seemed to be an unorthodox and unproven approach
at the time, but today, Jarod has medical specialists around the country baffled
as to how he has managed to hold onto his life for so long.
Jarod's rare condition affects only males and is genetic (passed only by female "carriers"),
causing the loss of the fatty covering (myelin) on nerve fibers within the
brain and progressive degeneration of his adrenal gland. In Jarod's case,
his system is missing the key enzyme that degrades fatty acids that would normally
be found in his blood's plasma and bodily tissues. The enzyme deficiency
that prevents the breakdown of the fatty acids is still not fully known. This
deficiency then leads to an accumulation of fatty acids in the brain, which
contributes to the gradual loss of myelin.
Many physicians around the U.S. are very hesitant to officially discuss ALD
because it is a controversial and mostly quizzical topic in the medical field. New
York-based Hunter's Hope Foundation, established in 1997 by Buffalo Bills quarterback
Jim Kelly, specializes in educating the public about diseases similar to ALD. According
to an education councelor at Hunter's Hope, an exceptional child like Jarod
would have been diagnosed with ALD at age five, with a life expectancy of 2-5
years beyond that, while suffering through ALD's countless debilitating symptoms.
In the organization's collective opinion, the fact that Jarod is able to stand
upright and walk is almost unheard of. Representatives at United Leukodystrophy
Foundation (ULF) in Sycamore, Ill., concur with this thought. According
to ULF, for a child to live more than a few years beyond their date of diagnosis
is extremely rare, to the extent of being unbelievable. The fact that
he is also kicking, punching and jumping is even more unusual. Even though
his eyesight and hearing capabilities hover at less than 25 percent and his
ability to balance himself is less than ideal, Jarod is still able to successfully
complete a 60-minute Tae Kwon Do class with energy to spare.
"We are extremely proud of the work our school has done with Jarod since
he came to us years ago," said 4th Dan James Howard, chief instructor of
Tiger's Lair Martial Arts. "I have personally witnessed Jarod progress
through his medical condition, and can easily say I have never known anyone with
so much determination and inner strength."
Upon officially presenting Jarod with his black belt recently, Mr. Howard gave
him the nickname "Rocky" and had the name professionally embroidered
on the belt. What better nickname than that of the underdog boxer, portrayed
by Sylvester Stallone, who continually overcame long odds to achieve what seemed
to be unattainable goals?
"Jarod has lived up to his nickname in every sense, and I can't think of
anyone who is more deserving of it," Howard said. "One tenet
of Tae Kwon Do is the development of a student's indomitable spirit, and in that
regard Jarod excels beyond belief."
Jarod's martial art classmates agree with Mr. Howard as well. Gary Branam,
an assistant instructor for Tiger's Lair, was working with Jarod one-on-one
in class recently during a sparring session, when Jarod fired a punch that
caught Branam square in the jaw. Although stunned, Branam was more impressed
than anything with Jarod's deceiving sense of power and accuracy.
"After class, I talked to Jarod's mom and joked that he nailed me in the
face with a punch. and she took that as a bad thing," Branam recalls. "I
tried to explain to her that Jarod was doing exactly what he was taught, and
that I was just caught way off guard. He hits so much harder than he realizes,
and we make sure he knows he's making good use of his skills."
And it is these same skills that he uses every day to fight back against his
internal aggressor - ALD.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Larry W. Wical, a Tae Kwon Do Black
Belt instructor and 2003 AAU Ohio State Medallist in Forms, Olympic-style
Sparring and Point Sparring, teaches at Tiger's Lair Martial Arts (www.TigersLairMartialArts.com)
in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a freelance writer for various local and regional