Jan. 6, 2012


Yellow Jackets' Wren Battles Medical Condition


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


As 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 thing.”


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 truths.


“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 energy.


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.


Right now, I might recover like everyone else and be OK today,” Wren said “Twenty or 30 years down the road, I could have severe repercussions.”


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 said.


Over 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 during athletics.”


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 Wren said.


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 foundation.


“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)