The Wolfpacker

January 2017

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 31 of 103

32 ■ THE WOLFPACKER WHEREARETHEYNOW? The Combs family has been through so much since last fall, when Chris began feel- ing persistent numbness in his fingers. In the spring, after months of tests, false- positives and trips to Duke University in Durham, to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, to a specialist in Phoenix, to Columbia Univer- sity in New York, he was officially diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's the same disease that claimed the life of longtime family friend Hunter in 1999. "There have been good days and bad," said Chris, who within the Wolfpack Club is responsible for annual giving and the Varsity Club. "It's really just something you take day by day." The Combs family, and the Wolfpack athletics community, have thrown as much support to Chris as they can. Avent, foot- ball coach Dave Doeren and head basketball coach Mark Gottfried gave their time to help with a fundraiser for Project ALS in Septem- ber. It raised more than $1 million for the nonprofit organization. Gottfried and his staff participated in a no-shave November fundraiser to help bring awareness to Combs and ALS research. There are about 16,000 people living with ALS in the United States and about 350,000 worldwide, with no effective medical treat- ment or vaccine. Combs has put together a team for the North Carolina Chapter of the ALS Associa- tion's Walk to Defeat ALS on April 22, 2017, with the goal of raising $150,000 for ALS research. It would be the single largest fund- raiser in the history of the local organization, which is named in memory of Hunter. "Chris and his wife Gena have been un- believable throughout this whole ordeal," said Purcell. "They have tackled it head on and aggressively by bringing awareness to the disease, seeking the best medical advice across the country and embracing the fund- raising needed for research. "They aren't letting the disease dictate their lives — they are dictating their fight against it. And that's been remarkable to watch." So in his heart, Francis Combs believes he made the right decision to go on the trip to the Virgin Islands with Chris, his daughter-in-law and their three children. The time with them means much more than continuing his streak of football games, even when several donors called him up after hearing about the end of the streak and offered to fly him and Chris together in a private plane for the Wolfpack- Hurricane football game. "I had already made the decision to end the streak, so it was not worth disrupting the trip to come back for the football game," said Francis, who earlier this year won the Ronnie Shavlik Award of Merit, the highest honor a former student-athlete can receive from the Wolfpack Club. "I knew I was ending the streak for the right reason. I felt good about it." It was weird, of course, at kickoff. He watched the game on his phone, while Chris watched it in an adjoining room on an iPad. The next week, after watching the Wolf- pack basketball team win two games and lose one in the Paradise Jam, Francis was back on the job the day after Thanksgiving in Chapel Hill, spotting for the radio network at Kenan Stadium when the Wolfpack scored a regular-season ending 28-21 victory over the favored Tar Heels. "That was a pretty good way to start a new streak," Francis said. Ryan Combs might also be on the verge of beginning a new streak. He entered the world of politics after graduating from NC State, working in the office of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole as a special assistant and leg- islative correspondent. He worked as a field representative and county coordinator for the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign and as a field representative for U.S. Senator Richard Burr. In 2013, he became a legisla- tive liaison for the North Carolina Depart- ment of Public Safety. As of early December, however, with the incumbent governor Pat McCrory losing his race to Roy Cooper, Ryan Combs wasn't sure about his future as a political liaison. However, for years, he has had a second job, refereeing and umpiring Division I and II college basketball and baseball games, a trade he learned from his father. "When you are playing you don't even think about umpires, where they are standing and what they are doing," he said. "But it is something that I've really gotten into. It's addictive. "I like to think I bring a player's perspec- tive to any game I officiate. It's really a dif- ferent viewpoint than most officials have." Freddie, who spent his career in the insur- ance industry after settling down in Raleigh, had an honor-filled year in 2015 in which he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and was honored as NC State's football legend at the 2015 ACC Football Championship in Charlotte. He and his wife Jaime have one daughter, Kristin Combs York. She lives in Bradenton, Fla., with husband Stewart York, daughter Kahlee and son Quinn. Kahlee York, like her grandfather, great uncle and first cousins, is a Division I athlete. Now in her senior year of high school, she recently signed a letter of intent to play beach volleyball at LSU. Quinn is a high school sophomore who plays basketball. Freddie is a lifelong supporter of Wolfpack athletics, paying back the scholarship he re- ceived with his devotion. "I love NC State," he said. "I love being around the sports, meeting the athletes. I've been rewarded for some of the things I did while I played. It was such a humbling ex- perience." The last two years have been a gratifying, glorifying and difficult time for the members of the Combs family. They celebrated many honors, streaks and milestones, while dealing with Chris' disease. What drew them together, however, when Chris learned of his disconcerting diagno- sis were the families they have cultivated through the years — their own and the gen- erations of Wolfpack faithful who have ad- opted them, their accomplishments and their graceful spirit in the face of a difficult journey forward. ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at Chris Combs has been fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, which led to head basketball coach Mark Gottfried and his staff growing out their beards during November. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS The Combs Family Age: Francis (70), Freddie (70), Chris (41), Ryan (36) Living: All in Raleigh Occupation: Francis is a spotter for Wolfpack Ra- dio Network. Freddie is retired from the insurance industry. Ryan is a legislative liaison for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Chris works for the Wolfpack Club as an associate director. Did you know? Freddie was an All-American de- fensive back in 1967, and once led the baseball team with a .330 batting average. He and Francis played on the 1968 College World Series team, and Francis was drafted by the New York Yankees after college. Chris was drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 after hitting 42 home runs in his ca - reer, tied for fifth all-time at NCSU. Ryan left in 2002 with the record for most career appearances by a pitcher (79), which still stands fourth all time. ? WHERE ARE THEY NOW

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolfpacker - January 2017