Adam Whitt has never shied away from a challenge. He played basketball, tennis, and baseball, but due to his small stature, he was not recruited out of high school. Growing up in Carson City, he enrolled at the University of Nevada in Reno, 35 minutes away.
“In 2011, I went to the head coach’s office at Nevada, two weeks before the season, and asked to try out. I went to the prospect camp—pitched three innings—and the pitching coach gave me another one-month trial in the fall. I went to my first meeting and all the people were bigger than me and could throw harder. It was intimidating, but I knew I could compete. I had a pretty good fall, but head coach Gary Powers said they didn’t have a spot. The plan was to practice and work out every day on my own away from the team. I wound up putting on 60 pounds during the offseason.”
Adam ate 10,000 calories a day. Many times, he ate until he got sick. He did whatever it took to put on the required weight. He gained 55 pounds to go from a gangly 150 to a thicker 205. His velocity increased as a result, topping out around 85 miles per hour. The next spring, he made the team. However, coaches told him he would be the last man on the roster and asked about changing his pitching style from a standard overhand to a sidearm or submarine style.
Adam agreed and became an integral part of Nevada’s baseball team. After suffering through a losing campaign during his freshman year, the squad won the Mountain West Conference after his junior season. Adam was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America Stopper of the Year Watch List, ranked third in career appearances and second in career saves. In 2015, he was drafted by the Houston Astros and spent the next two seasons playing minor league baseball.
“I had pride in myself for working so hard to get my body to that of a pro athlete. Regressing physically made me insecure and weak. I could not trust my body. It was failing me. There’s just so much stress. You’re always thinking, will it get worse? Will it get better? It’s easy to get depressed and focus on the negative. Wondering is the worst part"
"Not many people my age get CML, so most of the patients at HCI were older. I would talk to them to ask how they were doing so well. They told me the same thing: keep a positive outlook. Don’t give up, because I had other people relying on me.”
Adam’s mother and father came to stay with him for about a week at the onset of his treatment. His younger brother Avery stayed in touch throughout the entire process and constantly checked in. Adam even built a relationship with someone he had never met—a man named Leonard, who saw him pitch at Nevada.
"SO MANY THINGS ARE OUT OF YOUR CONTROL. SPORTS TEACH YOU ABOUT LIFE.”
“When I was first diagnosed, Leonard reached out to my dad and then called me. He had cancer and struggled as well. He knew what it was like to be scared and vulnerable. Once you share something with someone else, whether it’s playing a sport or dealing with cancer, you’re their teammate for life.”
His best teammate through it all has been his wife, Sara.
“She pushed me to get better. I remember getting the diagnosis of CML, the week before her finals, right before rotations. She worked so hard to get to this prestigious university. She grinded for two-and-a-half years and I told her she needed to stay in school. Her teachers were very accommodating. In May 2019, she graduated on time. I am so proud of everything she has accomplished while being there for me the entire time.”
Photos - Jonathan Martinez Editing - Meredith Vehar, Lisa Anderson