Curtis Frye, Cross Country and Track and Field coach at the University of South Carolina, is credited with creating one of the nation’s most elite athletic programs. He has coached both collegiate national championship teams and world-class gold medalists at the Olympic Games, and he has coached or overseen more than 50 NCAA National Champion student-athletes and more than 400 NCAA All-Americans. But his most meaningful legacy may have nothing to do with sprints or hurdles.
In 2011, “Coach,” Wilma, his wife, and their children formed the Frye Foundation. Its philanthropic mission is to provide support for diabetes and mental illness education, research and development, as well as mentoring programs and funding for student scholarships, among other charitable causes. True to Coach’s spirit and drive to take his mission as far as he possibly can, the Frye Foundation will eventually fund two college scholarships for students who plan to help in diabetes care or medical research.
Coach Curtis Frye decided to take his notoriety and work towards the goal of eradicating diabetes, or at least making life easier for the people who have it.
Much of the nonprofit organization’s day-to-day work happens at the hands of Coach’s nephew, Phillip Frye, the foundation’s executive director. “Phillip does the groundwork. I coach track and field,” Coach laughs. “But the foundation is not just a two-person show. We have a great team of help.”
Coach’s all-star team is going to be busy in the coming years as diabetes rates are expected to soar. Unfortunately, South Carolina already has one of the largest populations of diabetics in the nation.
“Diabetes affects particular sets of people at higher rates than others. Low income, African American and Hispanic communities are affected at greater percentages,” says Coach. “We want to help those less fortunate who can’t afford test strips, insulin pumps or the other day-to-day necessities that come with being diabetic.”
There is a compelling reason why eradicating diabetes is a personal mission for the Frye family – Coach’s grandfather, father and brother lived with diabetes and died from complications of the disease.
“We have a history of diabetes in my family. It’s had an effect on our personal lives. I thought I should take this small bit of notoriety that I have and work towards the goal of eradicating diabetes, or at least try to make life easier for people who have it,” says Coach.
Phillip also has felt the pain of a life lost too soon. “I lost my mother to diabetes,” he says. “I’m very passionate about this cause because I don’t want anybody to have to go through things we went through. I want us to come together and find a way to help those who have diabetes.”
In 2011, the foundation’s first year, Coach says that they reached numerous people. “We had a lot of support and ran four events, which were all well received,” he says.
One of those events was the first Celebrity Golf Classic at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. in May. “We were able to get support from people with large centers of influence from all around the country, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Steve Spurrier, a number of NFL players, the boxer James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, and many former Gamecock football players.”
There is a compelling reason why eradicating diabetes is a personal mission for the Frye family – Coach’s grandfather, father and brother lived with diabetes and died from complications of the disease, and Phillip lost his mother to it.
And while those famous faces might have stopped every Gamecock football fan in his tracks, Phillip says someone else stole the show that weekend. “One of our keynote speakers was Shann Leonard, a 12 year old with juvenile diabetes. He had the courage to stand in front of all those people and talk about his experience,” Phillip says with pride.
The foundation has big plans for 2012. “We’re going into inner-city communities to help them implement workout programs to get people used to doing some sort of physical activity every day,” says Phillip. “We’re even going to put in a community garden to benefit those around it with healthy food and good nutrition.”
“We’re also working to fund an endowment scholarship at Midlands Tech here in Columbia and have already started one at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, N.C, which we hope to grow,” Coach adds.
Phillip notes that in South Carolina, it’s estimated that one in three children has diabetes, a staggering statistic and a glimpse into the health of generations to come if something doesn’t change. “That’s why we incorporate mentoring programs to help kids. Then we hope they will help other kids. They need to know it’s not the end of the world,” Phillip says.
Coach has noticed that more of his student-athletes are feeling the effects of diabetes as well. “I’ve been working with young people for almost 40 years now,” he says.
“They trust their health is going to be with them for the rest of their lives. But more and more, they know someone — their mother, their aunt, someone in the neighborhood, a teammate — who has an insulin pump. It has a very real effect on them.”
Coach knows being diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t always have the effect it should. Thankfully, in Coach’s case, the diagnosis was a wake-up call to make some changes.
“I am a diabetic so I know information is empowering. I now eat differently. I’ve lost 50 pounds since January. I exercise, and I’ve changed my diet. And I feel a lot better,” he says. “You can do something about your health through exercise and diet. I practice what I am trying to ask others to do.”
When either Coach or Phillip gets an audience, there’s one topic that’s always in play: eradicating diabetes. “When we find an ear, we want to talk about diabetes and how we can stop it,” says Phillip.
Coach has a very big goal in mind for the Frye Foundation’s role in the community and in the fight against diabetes: “A healthy America. That’s part of our mission.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Frye Foundation or its upcoming events, visit www.thefryefoundation.org or call (800) 315-3611.