For Jacob Jarvis, a 15-year-old Buckeye fan who lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, watching Ohio State win the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship was the perfect end to his year-long journey with the team.
DMD is “a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness… caused by an absence of dystrophin, a protein that helps keep muscle cells intact,” according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association website.
According to the Duchenne Foundation Australia website, DMD is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed in children. It occurs mainly in boys and symptoms usually appear between the ages of two and five years. Researchers are searching for a cure.
Jacob first made a connection with coach Urban Meyer and the football team on the sidelines during a summer players’ camp in July 2013, said Chad Studebaker, Jacob’s father,
Meyer saw Jacob sitting in a wheelchair by the goal post, and went over to throw a football with him. Immediately after meeting and getting to know each other, the two created a special bond, Studebaker said.
“I thought it was so cool to meet Urban,” Jacob said. “I especially loved when he played catch with me.”
From there on out, Jacob became a fixture on the team. He and his brother, Noah, who also suffers from DMD, were asked by Meyer himself to be honorary captains during the coin-toss ceremony of the team’s game against Cincinnati, in honor of Coach to Cure MD weekend.
Coach to Cure MD is a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association and the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy charity to raise awareness of the disorder and raise money to fund research for a cure, according to the Coach to Cure MD website.
On the day of the event, Jacob and his brother strolled hand in hand alongside some of their favorite Buckeyes, Jeff Heuerman and captains Michael Bennett, Curtis Grant and Doran Grant, as they made their way to the center of the field. Jacob flipped the coin, one of the players surrounding him made the call and the Buckeyes ended up winning the toss.
After the game, Meyer had extended an open invitation to Jacob and his family to attend OSU football events such as home games, practices, film sessions and even team meetings and dinners, Studebaker said.
“(The football team) has accepted Jake and turned him into part of the family. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s pretty wonderful,” he said.
The family attended every home game the Buckeyes played, and even followed them through the postseason. Jacob and his father were invited to attend the national championship game that was held in Arlington, Texas, and stayed with the team throughout media day, Studebaker said.
At the end of the national championship game, shortly after Studebaker and Jacob took to the field to snap a picture with the trophy, Heuerman ran over and picked Jacob up and they celebrated the Buckeyes’ eighth national title together.
“I thought it was really awesome that Jeff celebrated the big win with me,” Jacob said.
Although the game has passed, Studebaker said he is still grateful for the opportunities he and his family have had.
“It’s a very humbling thing to be invited by coach Meyer to attend an away game, let alone a national championship game,” he said. “It’s still very surreal to me that we went there and had that experience. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Studebaker added that he hopes that his family will remain connected to the Buckeyes in the years to come.
“Moving forward, I’d like to start going to some away games as well,” he said. “If coach Meyer allows us, we will continue to come to practice and be a part of the team.”
During the offseason, the family plans to follow Heuerman through the NFL Combine and plans to keep in touch with the players through FaceTime, Studebaker said.
In addition to the experiences they shared at the national championship game, the Jarvis/Studebaker family is also grateful for the donations they have received, which they hope will continue researchers’ search for a cure for DMD.
“There’s been some donations made and people have reached out to us, and we are very grateful and humbled by that. Our main goal is to raise awareness. We want to spread the word and help find a cure,” Studebaker said.
Since meeting Jacob, the football team has drawn inspiration from his determination to overcome DMD, said OSU athletics spokesman Jerry Emig.
“Jacob has a wonderful spirit and a tremendous will to fight his disease, and these are two attributes that truly endear him to the members of the football program,” he said.
Studebaker said he has seen how the interactions with the team have affected Jacob, and hopes to continue the relationship in years to come.
“We have had a great journey, one that we will cherish forever … It’s been a real joy for us,” he said. “Quite honestly I’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s been beneficial to Jacob’s growth and his maturity as well.”