Jan. 6, 2012
Yellow Jackets' Wren Battles
By Sean Ryan
has been the case many times over the past five years, Colby
Wren (left) was in a doctor’s office in December.
Wren, a sophomore first baseman at Georgia Tech,
typically sees a specialist three or four times a semester, but
a visit the Thursday before Christmas for blood work, was his
first visit in a while.
“I hadn’t been in close to three months, which
for me is very odd,” said Wren. “It’s a good thing and a bad
On one hand, Wren has been successful in dealing
with a genetic mitochondrial disease, which has no known
effective treatments. On the other, the visit revealed some hard
“There are a few things that I’ll have to do
differently,” Wren said. “Off the field, I have to take care of
myself a little differently.”
Wren’s disorder –
mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation to be
specific – affects his gastrointestinal system and causes his
body to fatigue quickly and basically shut down due to lack of
When he was diagnosed in 10th
grade, Dr. John Shoffner tried to explain it simply: It didn’t
matter what he ate, he’d get about 60 to 70 percent of the
nutrients. When at high anaerobic thresholds, his body didn’t
produce enough energy. And his oxygen intake equated to about 65
or 70 percent.
On the surface, Wren, the son of
Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren and twin brother of
Georgia Tech sophomore standout Kyle Wren, seems like your
typical college baseball player. That’s far from reality. Wren
puts his body through hell just to play baseball, knowing that
every day takes its toll.
now, I might recover like everyone else and be OK today,” Wren
said “Twenty or 30 years down the road, I could have severe
Wren thought he was “an out of shape fat kid”
when he first experienced symptoms in fourth grade when playing
football. Wren stopped playing football until eighth grade, when
he started experiencing all kinds of symptoms. His leg cramps
were so severe, he’d have to be carried off the field. He’d
throw up just about every day. He was taken to the emergency
room on several occasions.
In ninth grade, Wren passed out, lost continence
and lost consciousness.
“From then on, I was scared to play football,” he
the next year, Wren met with dozens and dozens of specialists,
at one point missing three straight weeks and another four weeks
of half days of school at Landmark Christian School just south
of Atlanta (faculty worked with him to let him re-take tests so
he wouldn’t have to repeat ninth grade).
With each specialist came another diagnosis:
diabetes, thyroid problems, cancer, brain tumor. Some suggested
salt tablets, others pickle juice.
“As a 16, 17-year-old kid, you’re just kind of
beside yourself when you go to Google and type in some of these
things,” Wren said.
It wasn’t any easier on his parents.
“The most difficult things to deal with are the
unknown, especially when it involves one of your children,” said
Frank Wren. “We lived that out for a couple years trying to get
answers to why he was having so much trouble in staying healthy
The answer came when he met with Shoffner,
regarded as a pioneer in the discovery of mitochondrial disease
and an international expert. With the unknown now known, Wren
could move forward.
Wren gave up on football and teamed with his twin
brother Kyle – an outfielder at Georgia Tech who was a freshman
All-American last year according to Baseball America,
Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA and Perfect Game –
to help Landmark Christian to two state runner-up finishes.
As Kyle was emerging as one of the best players
in the state, finishing his career with a .455 average (second
in Georgia history with 196 hits) and three All-State
selections, Colby put together a monster senior season with a
.390 average, 12 homers and 45 RBI. All while learning to live
with mitochondrial disease.
“Knowing that he had to put up with a disease
that limits his physical ability has been very hard, especially
when he had to quit football because he was very good,” Kyle
At Georgia Tech, the brothers help each other out
in different ways.
“As my twin brother, he knows my game better than
anyone,” Kyle said. “He knows my swing and what I need to do to
succeed. Sometimes after I feel I’ve had a bad at-bat I’ll ask
him what he saw, he tells me what he thinks I’ve done wrong, and
I try to fix it in my next plate appearance. He also will tell
me when my swing and approach looks good and tell me to keep
doing what I’m doing.”
Countered Colby: “It honestly is one of those
things that if Kyle weren’t on the field, it’d be a lot easier
to give it up [baseball].”
But there are no plans for that just yet.
“It’s been brought up many times,” said Wren, who
enjoys golfing and built his own computer for fun over the
summer. “It’s been brought up with my family and my doctors.
It’s one of those things, I’ve always been able to adapt. The
more results I’ve gotten over the years, I’ve had to adapt… it’s
too early to tell what this spring holds and what this fall
holds. If it becomes too much of a burden or too cumbersome, I’d
have to hang up my cleats.”
Off the field, Wren serves as an ambassador for
the Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine, where he has
befriended and inspired others who share his disease. He
embraces telling his story and sees himself continuing to work
with the foundation with a goal of gaining exposure for
mitochondrial disease and funding a new cure – the Wren family
held a fundraising event last year that raised $250,000 for the
“He has a very positive attitude about his future
and he doesn’t let it get him down,” Frank Wren said. “And he
has shown a very unselfish attitude towards his brother and his
success, encouraging and helping him get better and that
attitude makes a parent proud.”
Ultimately, Wren would like to work in public
relations, weaving his passion for communicating with his
passion for baseball.
But for now, he’ll grind. Grind through the
rigors of being a student athlete. Grind through the rigors of
long workouts and conditioning. Grind through the rigors of a
college baseball season.
“It’s just one of those things where I’ve never
found something that I will back down to,” Wren said. “If I have
an opportunity to face or an opportunity to conquer or overcome
something, I will.”
(photos courtesy of GT Media Relations Office)