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(Photo courtesy of Austin Peay University)
This is the Eargle family of Austin Peay: (L-R) Joshua, Stallings (now 2), Kourtney, 7, Landrey, 5, and Kristen.

Dawg Nation comes up big in support of one Austin Peay family

Chip Towers

ATHENS — I fancy myself a pretty decent writer, a pretty good journalist. I can’t hold a candle to Kristen Eargle.

If you don’t know who she is, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you learn about her. Go read her blog, “Ruler of Hope.” It’ll be the best thing you read all day, I promise. And it’ll be incredibly informative.

Kristen Eargle is the wife of Joshua Eargle, Austin Peay’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator. She’s also a sort of in-house sports personality for Austin Peay’s football program. She’s a sideline reporter during the Governors’ games — she’ll be wearing that hat for the OVC Network when they visit Athens on Sept. 1 — and she hosts the coach’s show each week during the season. So as her strong writing indicates, Kristen is journalist by training.

But she had to give up her full-time gig as a TV news broadcaster to fulfill her more important role of being mother to little Landrey Eargle. Landrey, Kristen and Joshua’s 5-year-old daughter, has the rarest of rare diseases, and one that just happens be incredibly cruel in nature. It’s so rare it doesn’t even have a name. For working purposes, doctors just refer to it as a “Rare Genetic Condition.” Technically, it is a mutation of the CSNK2B gene.

Kristen does an excellent job of explaining the medical side of it on her blog. In the interest of keeping it simple here, I’ll just say because of it Landrey battles myoclonic epilepsy, intellectual disability, a congenital heart defect and immunodeficiency, among other things. Basically it keeps her really sick and in pain. It’s awful.

In the latest entry of her blog, published on August 10, Kristen informs in her incredibly eloquent style what she and her husband just learned about Landrey’s illness in their latest conference with a pediatric geneticist. The hopelessness is palpable.

“A future undetermined. A past too complicated to explain. A present that requires relentless tenacity,” Kristen writes.

She goes on to explain that the genetic mutation from which Landrey is suffering is the first in documented medical history with that error in that gene; that Landrey is only the fourth person in the history of the world with even a notated abnormality in that gene; that Landrey the first person in the country with an error in that gene at all.

“It’s an answer with no answer,” Kristen writes.

All that is obviously sad and tragic, and not something any parent wants to hear. But it wasn’t long after that last blog post that Landrey’s story took a sudden, positive turn. And the Bulldog Nation was at the center of it.

The Eargles’ struggles are well known to the Austin Peay fan base. But this past Sunday, a sophomore place-kicker for the Governors, Cole Phillips, decided to bring their plight to the attention of Georgia fans. A native of Cairo, Ga., he reached out to two hometown friends who happen to be athletes at UGA. Phillips asked Koby Pyrz, a sophomore noseguard, and Emerson Hancock, a pitcher for the Bulldogs, to share on their social media platforms a link to a story on Eargles’ journey that appeared on the GoPeay.com website.

“That was about 11 o’clock Eastern Time Sunday night,” Kristen Eargles said via telephone Thursday. “Cole told him, ‘this a great opportunity to share with the Georgia faithful about this. Would you do me a favor and retweet this and bring some attention to this family that needs some help?'”

Hancock did him one better. He shared the tweet with his Georgia football buddies. Each of them, in turn, pushed it out on their respective social media channels. That, of course, caught the attention of a number of Bulldogs’ fans who follow those players. And they also retweeted and liked the story.

“I guess this is the definition of something going viral,” Kristen said with a hearty laugh. “When the Georgia players started tweeting it out, the Austin Peay players started retweeting and liking all their tweets, and then fans started noticing. Keep in mind, this is all happening without me or Joshua knowing anything about it.”

It wasn’t until the next day, Monday, that Kristen became aware of what was happening. Dutifully, she started tweeting back thank yous with the hashtag #ForTheLoveOfLandrey.

“Within about two hours, it just took off,” Kristen said.

In a word, Dawg Nation responded. Many of them made their way to the GoFundMe site set up for the Eargles. At the time, the site had raised $22,000 toward a goal of $41,500., according to Kristen. As of Thursday afternoon, the balance had ballooned to more than $57,000. And it was still climbing.

“I just started crying when I saw that,” Kristen said, tearing up again. “It’s unbelievable that people we don’t even know would do something like this not expecting to get anything back.”

To be clear, the funds were desperately needed. Because so much of Landrey’s treatment is experimental and expensive, the costs have spiraled well beyond the means of insurance coverage. Kristen said they had no other choice than to start applying the balance to their credit cards.

The Eargles met with the family banker on August 8th and were informed that, based on the enormous balance that had accrued, their interest payment alone was going to be about $5,600 by the end of this month.

“We got to where we couldn’t even afford the minimum payment anymore,” Kristen said.

Now they can. In fact, thanks to the actions of the DawgNation, they can start thinking about paying off that balance and perhaps preparing for the next wave of bills and expenses that will surely come.

And nobody knows what else there is to come. There is so much uncertainty about Landrey’s rare illness that the Eargles have no way of knowing what to expect next. The doctors don’t even know.

That’s why the Eargles are so blown away by the outpouring of love and support they’ve encountered from the Georgia people. Austin Peay Athletics knew it would benefit financially from the Sept. 1 date with the Bulldogs, who will pay the school $500,000 to visit Sanford Stadium. But the Eargles never dreamed what a blessing this matchup would be to their family personally.

“If I could say one thing to the Dawg Nation, it is, ‘you’ve changed the course of Landrey’s life,'” Kristen said Thursday morning from Clarksville, Tenn. “It’s just a beautiful thing they’ve done. Now we can pay for what happened before and not be so crippled by it and start thinking about other modifications that might be needed. We’re forever grateful.”

None of this, of course, fixes little Landrey’s problem. It doesn’t cure her disease. But it does, if just for a moment, alleviate some financial pressure and restore one family’s faith in their fellow mankind, not to mention the God they worship.

As for UGA, it’s worth noting that Kristen already was a fan. Though raised in Germantown, Tenn., and an alumnae of Memphis, she actually grew up a Georgia fan. Her grandfather, Frank Jolley, attended Georgia in the 1950s, and her brother, Nathan, is a 2013 graduate.

“I grew up listening to Larry Munson,” Kristen said. “You could pick up the radio broadcasts in Memphis. That was probably my inspiration for wanting to become a sports journalist.”

Nobody’s quite sure what the future holds for Landrey Eargle. She turns 6 on Sept. 6. The Eargles plan to celebrate her birthday in Athens on the Sunday after the game. The Dawg Nation’s outpouring should help that cause as well.