“Be gentle,” Troy Berry joked after his son, Nick, was asked to describe the type of man his father is. Luckily, Troy had no reason to worry – Nick had already written an essay about that very topic that was complimentary enough to earn him a $1,000 national scholarship to attend the University of Findlay this fall.
Adapted from a school assignment, the five-paragraph submission to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society illustrated how Troy’s challenges with the disease haven’t kept him from being a consummate family man, generous friend and helper to others.
“The person I admire and look up to the most is my father,” Nick wrote. “Every day he amazes me and motivates me to be great. Even with MS holding him back, he is still there for us whenever he can be there. He amazes me every day with his will and positive attitude even when things aren’t going his way.”
Troy, a former UF baseball coach, is now the Athletic Department’s director of tickets and concessions, and its assistant director of athletic facilities scheduling. “You always want your children to look up to you and think those things. It definitely brings tears to your eyes, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
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“It was the weirdest thing,” Troy said of his initial disease symptoms, which showed up more than 15 years ago. “Whenever I would go jogging, my left leg would go numb from the knee down. It was like it was falling asleep. I just kind of played it off,” he said. He was also having occasional back pain.
The diagnoses came in 2000, when he was 32, Nick was 4 and daughter Madison a newborn. “It was probably a shock more than anything,” he said. “Whenever you see somebody who has it, you kind of fear the worst at the time.” Insulating him somewhat, he said, was his youth with all of its bravado and optimism. “I was young. I was athletic… or at least I thought I was athletic; some would probably debate that,” he quipped.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. Myelin, the fatty substance that protects nerve fibers, is eroded and scarred, causing a wide variety of symptoms such as muscle weakness, dizziness, vision impairment and numbness in extremities.
Troy’s game plan moving forward was simple. He frequently worked out and kept to that routine as much as possible. He also commenced to educating himself about the disease.
Baseball proved to be a saving grace, too. His love for the game runs deep. He played for UF while studying journalism. Not long after graduating in 1992, he became the team’s assistant coach, a position he held for nine years. He was then head coach for a decade.
Coaching, Troy said, is a remarkable amalgam of relationships with the players, competitive drive and solid preparation for optimal performance, he said. The game itself is a precise but poetic endeavor with exactly 27 outs played with no time limit, which is what he said he likes best about it.
“I’ve had a very supportive family, and it starts with him,” said Nick of his father. Despite having to observe, for the vast majority of his life, his dad’s MS battle, his childhood was happy and solidly backed by those who love him.
“We’ll just say as soon as I got out of the womb,” Nick said when asked when he started playing baseball. T-Ball games and Troy’s coaching taught him what he knows so far, but he said he still has as a lot to learn, and he’s looking forward to acquiring that knowledge. Like his dad, he’ll be playing for UF’s team, he said. His go-to positions: second base and outfield.
Attending the University of Findlay was a given, Nick said. He noted that both of his parents are alumni, and his familiarity with the institution via his dad’s work (he made it to almost all of his UF’s baseball games when Troy coached) has already forged a strong connection.
“I get to play baseball there. I get to follow in my dad’s footsteps and that’s pretty big to me,” Nick said.
“I try to live every day like my father, with no regrets and to the fullest,” Nick wrote in his essay. A full day for him, he said, involves a lot of laughter and love, and crying if need be. Not shying away from emotions but experiencing them is a hallmark of wholehearted living, he maintained.
Troy’s ability to remain positive hinges on his family, he emphasized. He met his wife, Dawn, at UF by identifying her as the most attractive student in one of his classes and later talking to her at a party. Their children are active with sports and school activities, and assist him when needed as well, he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family that constantly take my illness seriously. They’re always asking how I’m doing. Plus, everybody at the University has just been phenomenal with working with me. They know my situation and they just continue to support,” he said.
Troy now uses a motorized chair for mobility. Some days are more of a struggle than others, he admitted. There are occasional falls and other frustrations. “I have no strength. I’m weak. What may normally take me half an hour may take me an hour. But anymore I’m to the point where any day I wake up breathing is not a bad day,” he said.
“My only wish is to be half the man my father is,” Nick’s essay concludes.
The Berry family resides in Findlay. For more information about MS, visit the National MS Society’s website at nationalmssociety.org.