Devard Darling has created the As One Foundation to increase awareness concerning overexertion and sports-related deaths due to having the sickle cell trait (Photo: The Darling family)
While growing up in the Bahamas, Devard Darling and his identical twin brother Devaughn always had aspirations of playing football at Florida State.
The Darling family moved to Houston right before high school, and that’s when the brother’s dreams started to become a reality. They both not only got to attend FSU but would also be coached by Bobby Bowden, who they grew up idolizing.
But tragedy struck during their time in Tallahassee. During offseason drills in February 2001, after his freshman season on the team, Devaughn collapsed and later died. An autopsy revealed Devaughn carried the sickle cell trait, which doctors said may have contributed to his death, along with exertion and dehydration.
20 years after Devaughn’s death, Devard is celebrating his brother’s life while trying to educate people about the effects of the sickle cell trait.
Devard’s organization, the As One Foundation, is sponsoring a virtual race called Darling Dash, a nonprofit fundraiser with the hopes of raising money to prevent deaths like Devaughn’s.
Devard also created Operation Hydration, which seeks to create earlier awareness of the correlation between sickle cell and lack of hydration – preventing sports-related deaths due to dehydration and exhaustion. It’s an awareness campaign that provides an annual training program for high school coaches, other athletic-related staff, and student-athletes.
“Having the sickle cell trait is very preventable when it comes to athletic-related deaths, and that’s what the As One Foundation and the Darling Dash are all about,” Darling told the Democrat. “Darling Dash is the main fundraiser that we have for the foundation.
“We always want to celebrate Devaughn and celebrate Devaughn’s life and what he stood for. This is a heartfelt organization that has grassroots that are truly trying to do great work out here. Sickle cell trait, sickle cell is not just a black disease as it sometimes gets labeled, as it affects everyone.
“We are all in this thing together. We are all as one, and that’s where the As One Foundation came from. Two hearts beating as one.”
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Darling transferred to Washington State from FSU shortly after his brother’s death. That’s when he began to learn more about the sickle cell trait and how it is preventable.
Darling started the As One Foundation in 2007 after he was established in the NFL, with the help of Dr. Tamia Austin, who is the executive director.
It was Austin’s idea to create Darling Dash, which is in its 11th year.
This year’s event is virtual because of the COVID pandemic. The event is $40 and runs until the end of March.
Together, Darling and Austin have worked endlessness on new ways of educating the public about the dangers of not knowing if you have the sickle cell trait. Darling has been to symposiums in various cities, talking to coaches and trainers about the dangers of players not taking proper care of themselves and getting checked for the sickle cell trait.
Testing for the sickle cell trait requires just a simple blood test. It is a genetic trait that can be found in people of African, Indian, Asian, Mediterranean, Latin, Turkish, Italian, and Greek descent. So, it doesn’t just affect African-Americans.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does mandate sickle cell trait testing for all student-athletes. But high schoolers have also died due to exertion & dehydration from complications from the trait, as 4 million people in the U.S. with the sickle cell trait have it and don’t even know it.
Devard and Devaughn Darling when they attended Florida State before Devaughn’s tragic death in 2001 (Photo: The Darling family)
“Getting tested as most babies in most states are tested for the trait, but the results go inside a drawer, and you never look at them again,’ Darling said. “Getting tested, knowing that you have the trait and being educated on it and continuing to hydrate yourself.
“Being aware that you’re in high altitudes and making sure you’re hydrated and have enough oxygen. Eating right, eating on time. These are some of the things that you have to look out for and educate yourself on.”
Despite the terms in which he left FSU, Darling still considers himself a Seminole. His brother Devaughn was even buried in a Seminoles’ jersey. After Devaughn’s death, Devard didn’t want to leave FSU. But he also has the sickle cell trait and was not cleared by FSU trainers to return to play after Devaughn’s death.
That’s when Devard transferred to Washington State, where he played two seasons and caught 106 passes for 1,630 yards and 18 touchdowns before being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.
“Growing up in the Bahamas and being young boys, Florida State was always one of our favorite teams,” Darling said. “Watching Charlie Ward, Warrick Dunn, just all the success through the 90s, it was hard not to be a ‘Noles fan, a Bobby Bowden fan.
“So when we got a chance to move to Houston in eighth grade and started playing football, that was one of the first things on our mind, getting good enough to go to Florida State and make it to the NFL.
“That was our path and made it become a reality. Unfortunately, that got cut short for Devaughn, but he lives on through me, and we continue to spread his name and have his spirit live on through the As One Foundation.”
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Darling’s ultimate goal is to work with NCAA to be the main educational platform for learning about the sickle cell trait because you can’t have the disease without first having the trait. But, if Darling cannot work with the NCAA, he would love to visit individual schools such as FSU before branching out to more sports leagues.
In 2018, Darling had a sickle cell trait symposium there at FSU, and he is hoping to visit the university after the COVID pandemic is over.
“Many people, even in sickle cell communities, sometimes discredit the sickle cell trait and how much effect it has on the community as a whole,” Darling said. “So, just being the number one platform for education and we want to continue to test people, text kids in high schools, the NCAA, we would love to partner with them to be the main voice for the education platform for the NCAA.
“To add sickle cell trait as a cause of death. Those are some of the plans that we have with the As One Foundation. Long term, we want to open up a facility in Devaughn Darling’s name and continue to promote our education and sports. All of those things are lofty goals that we have with the As One Foundation that was started by two young boys from the Bahamas.”
Reach Antwan Staley at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
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