Battling his brain

More news about: Lawrence

By Joe Vanden Acker
Lawrence sports information director

Lawrence athletics photo

It is the day that changed Davis Ogilvie ’15. Changed his life. Changed who he was. Changed everything.

The Lawrence University baseball standout was a sixth grader in fall 2004 when his family was on vacation in Walt Disney World. Davis was experiencing one of those brutal Florida days where the heat and humidity can get the best of you. Davis thought he was just feeling the effects of the stifling temperatures.

Before Davis knew it, his hands were clenched and his arms were pressed to his chest. “I was in and out of realizing what was going on,” he said.

Understandably alarmed, Doug and Debbie Ogilvie took their son to a local hospital. After extensive tests with no clear answer, the Ogilvies returned home to Libertyville, Ill., a few days later.

More doctors and more tests and a trip to the neurologist led to the diagnosis of Tourette syndrome. For more than eight years, Davis has lived with Tourette syndrome and has been able to learn and play at a very high level despite the challenges.

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that manifests itself during childhood. According to the Tourette Syndrome Association website, the disorder is defined by multiple motor and vocal tics. Davis’ disorder was at its extreme when it first

“Not only was it there, but it was there so bad, no one at the time could tell us what it was,” Doug Ogilvie said. “We have these tall kitchen stools, and if you weren’t watching
him, you would turn around and he would be standing on top of a stool. And he wouldn’t know how he got there. … Through the years, it’s still been there, but not to the magnitude of when it first came about.”

Lawrence athletics photo

The doctors tell Davis that he is not a typical Tourette syndrome patient. He doesn’t have some of the extreme motor tics, and his verbal tics don’t involve shouting or profane
speech that many would associate with the disorder. Davis was a stellar young athlete in baseball, basketball and football, but playing those sports became more difficult after
the onset of Tourette syndrome. Learning in the classroom also became tougher. He said his brain will tell him to do something and he feels compelled to do it. The Tourette Syndrome
Association would describe that as a premonitory urge, which is the urge to perform a motor activity.

“I’ll be walking down the hallway and I will stop what I’m doing and do whatever the urge is until it feels exactly perfect” Davis said. “When it’s really bad, it might take five minutes.” However, Davis added that he doesn’t consider his version of Tourette syndrome an extreme case. “My tics are not bad at all,” Davis said.

The tics get worse and the disorder becomes more severe when Davis is worn down physically or really stressed. In other words, it gets worse when he’s being a typical college student. Davis said he chose Lawrence in part because he knew it would be a challenge and in part because of the learning environment.

“I knew I wanted a small school that would definitely help me out with Tourette’s and the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Davis said. “I knew I wanted the small classes and teachers that could help me.”

Davis arrived with the football players in August 2011 to take on the role of team manager. When Doug and Debbie Ogilvie dropped their son off at Lawrence, Davis knew his parents were concerned.

“How is he going to cope? How is this change going to affect him? Going into it, they were worried a lot,” Davis said. “I was here three weeks early for football, and as the term went on, they saw me doing better and the worries went away.” But there were worries.

Lawrence athletics photo

“We dropped him off early and put him in a room by himself in Trever (Hall) and it was like, cross your fingers,” Doug Ogilvie said. “I remember the three-hour drive back. There wasn’t a lot of communication between my wife and me because we were both kind of numb.”

Doug and Debbie began to feel a sense of satisfaction that Davis had made it to the start of his college career. “That actually made us feel good. We were not just dropping him off and he starts school in two days. He was able to build up to that,” Doug Ogilvie said. “Dropping our son off at school was a positive step. There were times when we weren’t sure we would get to this point.”

Davis admitted his freshman academic year was difficult, but added that the second year went well. An economics major, Davis is working hard toward his degree. In fact, he is probably working harder and longer than just about any other student at Lawrence.

“We expected struggles. I’m not a top-notch student. I need a lot of studying to remember all of this stuff,” Davis said with a smile. “Homework takes me two or three times longer than it takes everyone else. After this year, I’ve done a hundred times better. Right now, it’s going well.”

Davis’ brain still gets in the way of filling itself with knowledge. The tics sidetrack him to finish a task his brain tells him he has to complete before he can go back to feeding that same brain with information.

On the baseball field, Davis finds some refuge from the disorder, but it is always with him. Watch Davis on the field and you will see him step from the batter’s box or stand on the pitching rubber and shake his head. To the uninitiated, you may think he is simply shaking off a sign from the catcher. To those who know Davis, they realize he is dealing with a tic at that moment. The interesting thing is that the tics truly disappear in the moment of action on the field—when he’s throwing a pitch, taking a swing or fielding a ball.

“When that pitcher is in the windup, if I tic, I’m not going to be able to hit the pitch so I suppress the tics,” Davis said. “When I’m in the [batter’s] box or in the field, I don’t do it. I seem to be able to differentiate when I can do it and when I can’t. “It has affected me; especially when I get run down, they get worse. If I’ve been doing it all day, I can’t practice,” Davis said. “It’s been difficult, but it’s also been an outlet. Being an athlete has helped.”

A career .327 hitter, Davis was the team’s starting third baseman in 2013 after pitching extensively as a rookie in 2012.

“I don’t think anybody realizes what he has to go through to be a student and to be an athlete,” Doug Ogilvie said. “I see him make these plays at third and … it amazes me every time he does because I don’t know how he does it.

“The pride and the respect of what he’s been able to do is off the charts for me. What he goes through, I wouldn’t be able to get up every day and do it.”

While Davis continues to grow and thrive, the thought of an end to the Tourette syndrome and a return to a more normal existence is never far from his thoughts.

“I try to imagine how I would be different if I wasn’t diagnosed,” Davis said. “I take being diagnosed as a blessing and a curse. After going through it, I have a whole different perspective on life. I’m a lot stronger.”

Davis thinks the standard thoughts of a young man. He ponders finding a girlfriend, having a career, starting a family. “I always wonder, will I ever wake up one day and will it go away?” Davis asked.

And now he waits, and dreams, of the next day that will change his life.

This firat appeared in the Lawrence University Lux July 2013