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Purdue All-American Caleb Swanigan Has Died

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Caleb Swanigan have heard the story many times before. We heard that every time Purdue basketball played between 2015 and 2017. And that was alright since the narrative was entertaining. It was the narrative of a young man who grew up in a challenging environment that included homeless shelters, going back and forth between Utah and Indiana with a mother trying to do the best she could with six children and a father who had succumbed to drug addiction. It was the narrative of a young guy who liked dessert, particularly cheesecake, and who appeared to use food to soothe himself in these trying times. He eventually gained 360 pounds before even starting high school. Then something happened.

Caleb Swanigan was barely 13 years old when Roosevelt Barnes, a former Purdue football star, took him under his wing, eventually adopting him and sending him to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the request of Caleb’s elder brother. Barnes knew what it needed to succeed on and off the field, and he sought to instil similar determination in Caleb. Swanigan, unlike his adopted father, was not a fan of football. His sport was basketball, not football. Despite his weight of almost 300 pounds, he had a game. Barnes seen something that he thought had the potential to improve Swanigan’s life.

As a result, the job began. In more ways than one, when you’re 6’2 and 360 pounds in eighth grade, you’re undoubtedly the biggest among your peers. As a result, he’s known as Biggie. Anyone who has attempted to lose weight knows how difficult it can be. It takes commitment to not just workout but also eat well. It is essential to eat properly. And it might be more tough for someone who has experienced food hardship and an inexplicable scenario. ESPN published a piece on it. Swanigan himself highlighted the difficulties of eating well in January 2017:

Caleb ‘Bigger’ Swanigan began to become less, well, biggie, with the aid of Harrison Barnes. Swanigan rose through the ranks of high school basketball to become a highly coveted college recruit. He changed his pledge and opted to play for the Purdue Boilermakers after first pledging to play for the Michigan State Spartans. Swanigan went on to be crowned Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and was invited to the McDonald’s All-American game. Incredible accomplishments that would have appeared unthinkable to Caleb Swanigan only five years ago.

Swanigan had an instant effect at Purdue. His rebounding was arguably his best skill. No one wanted the ball more when it came off the rim than he did, and if you wanted it, you’d have to go through him. He could also score, but it was nothing compared to his rebounding. He scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his debut collegiate game. Out of a total of 69 games played in college, he would have 40 games with double digit rebounding. During his sophomore season, he would grab 20 or more rebounds four times. When we consider the sophomore season in isolation, it was even more remarkable.

Forget about those 40-rebound games I mentioned before. Instead, take a look at his sophomore season, when he recorded 29 games with double digit rebounding out of a total of 35. That’s six instances in a season that he didn’t have at least ten rebounds. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever see again. He had an uncanny knack for spotting the ball. At the collegiate level, rebounding is all about effort. And effort was never in short supply for a person who altered his entire physique and his entire existence.

Swanigan was awarded a consensus All-American after an outstanding season, becoming the first Purdue player to do so in six years.

Following this season, he made the wise decision to enter the NBA Draft. The Portland Trailblazers chose him in the first round, 26th overall. He’d pulled off the inconceivable. The young guy, who weighed about 400 pounds at the time, had altered his body and mind and was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. It’s a fairytale, after all. It’s something you almost wouldn’t believe until you’d witnessed it for yourself. Something that appeared impossible to be true. I believe we now know that it was, in some ways.

You and I were not present at the time. We have no idea what led Caleb Swanigan down the dark road from which he had appeared to have fled. I won’t conjecture; instead, I’ll simply state that the Covid-19 outbreak created several issues for many people. Swanigan looked to flourish in the environment set up by Roosevelt Barnes, Purdue Basketball, and the NBA. When the NBA Bubble popped, we saw a shift. Despite the fact that the Trailblazers were on the verge of making the playoffs, Caleb Swanigan declined to join them for personal reasons.

You’ve probably heard the rest of the tale by now. You learned of the arrest and saw the mugshot, which revealed a significant weight increase, and you wished it wasn’t real. But, unfortunately, it was all true. Caleb Swanigan, the young man who had battled so hard and given so much in order to find stability away from a life of drugs and gluttony, had found himself in the situation that many had dreaded would be his fate for a long time. With a father who weighed over 500 pounds, did drugs, and had diabetes, there had to be a gloomy cloud hanging over him his whole life. He’d been able to outrun it for several years. He’d overcome the obstacles of his background to become what most of us could only aspire to be.

He was an All-American, an NBA player, and his jersey was retired at a big institution. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

For many years, addiction has been a scourge in this country. Many lives have been lost far too early, and there is no end in sight. When these things happen, people often wonder why someone would do this to themselves, what anguish they were trying to forget, or what pain they were attempting to dull. Caleb Swanigan’s life appears to have been filled with much to forget, much agony to dull, and a family history to avoid. Even the quickest runners lose a stride, and even the finest among us can suffer, as history has proved.

The race is ended for Caleb Swanigan. Early this morning, it was announced that he had died at the age of 25. Although further information is still being gathered, initial indications indicate that the death was due to natural causes. Whatever the reason, it’s tragic. This morning, his former Purdue teammates began tweeting about it. The young guy who had overcome so much and laid it all out on the floor every night was no longer with us.

Caleb Swanigan’s life was filled with highs and lows. I had thought that Swanigan would bounce back after his incarceration and perform what he did best. To be able to see the next move and then go up and grab it. That wasn’t going to happen.

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