Take Five: Badger Bob Adamov returns to Madison
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As part of the 1998 Wisconsin Badger football team that exceeded expectations to win a Big Ten title, qualify for the 1999 Rose Bowl, and upset UCLA, Bob Adamov is accustomed to beating the odds. One of the Badgers’ fabled walk-ons, he became a safety and team captain, but after leaving UW, he also faced an unexpected health scare. If you believe in synergy, he has returned to Madison to work with Exact Sciences on the very same health issue — the prospect of colorectal cancer — that he’s twice stared down.
In this Take Five interview, the Sturgeon Bay native recalls his days with the Badgers, his health issues, and his chance to wage a very personal fight against cancer in his new role with Exact Sciences, where he’s engaged in direct sales of Cologuard, the company’s noninvasive screening test for colorectal cancer, to primary care physicians. Here are excerpts from our talk.
IB: I’d like to get into a number of topics, but first I’d like to talk about how serious your health challenges have been. As I understand, you’ve had polyps and while most polyps are benign, or non-cancerous, they can become malignant, or cancerous. So what can you tell me about your health battles?
Adamov: It was a number of years ago, so I was maybe in my mid 30s, and I was 15 years away from needing screening because we don’t have a history of colorectal cancer in my family. I had a GI [gastrointestinal] issue, and it really was acute. It’s never happened again since, but I spent a number of years in the GI field with a previous organization and dealt with colorectal cancer. Through that education, I knew that you shouldn’t just let something like that go, regardless of how benign it may seem.
So I called a friend of mine. It was a Thursday afternoon and we were up for Thanksgiving, and he was a GI in New York City. I explained my symptoms to him, and he said it’s probably nothing major. He gave me an indication of what it might be, but he also said to follow up and get a colonoscopy anyway. I called another friend of mine, a GI, who was in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is where I was living, and talked to him, and he was like, ‘Can you get in Monday?’ I said ‘Yes, I can work my way back Saturday, that works great.’ So I went in for my procedure on Monday and they removed five polyps from me when I was 35 years old.
Since then, they’ve put me on a five-year schedule, and when I went back in for my second colonoscopy, because I had become a higher risk overnight, they removed four more. So the colorectal screening side of it, and the war on colorectal cancer, and the prevention for these 50,000 people who are dying every year does hit home to me because the knowledge that I had gained saved my life. In 15 years, I would have had cancer undoubtedly and it probably would have been pretty late stage if I didn’t have future and subsequent symptoms. Overall, that’s one of the things that really did attract me to Exact Sciences because they are committed to helping win this war on cancer through early detection. I’m somebody for whom the knowledge can come through from what the company does each day, with the education they are providing and Cologuard and the products that we have to help get people screened. It’s also people at Exact taking a stance on ensuring that people are educated. The product in and of itself is great, but there is also education that is needed.
IB: So this is very personal for you, as well.
Adamov: Yes, it is. It’s hard not to know somebody close to you or close family friends who have not been affected by colorectal cancer. That’s really one of the sad things about it. When detected early, it’s very preventable.
IB: The UW football program is known for its successful walk-on program, and perhaps J.J. Watt is the most famous example, but you’re also an illustration of how successful it has been. Why do you think the Wisconsin program attracts so many athletic late bloomers or guys who are overlooked in the recruiting process?
Adamov: One of the things that Coach Barry Alvarez instilled early on was to make the walk-on program a priority. It’s a testament to the young men they bring into the program, and it’s not just from an athletic standpoint. Some of us in the walk-on role might be one-tenth of a second slower or an inch shorter or a couple of pounds lighter, but they are really looking at the attitude, the character, and the integrity of the individual that in every sense of the word is still athletic. They are still good football players, but maybe they just didn’t hit on some of the athletic measurements that people really look at. So they also are bringing in people like the J.J. Watts and the Jimmy Leonhards. The list goes on and on of successful walk-ons that they brought in, a number of which have gone on from contributing to the Badger football program to playing in the NFL and having great careers.
I really think it’s a situation that Coach Alvarez has instilled in the program, and Coach Paul Chryst because of his ties to the UW, as well, understands that there is just a certain character and person that we’re looking for to join the Wisconsin football program, and they go out and find them. Not all of them can get scholarships, and the ones who don’t are offered an opportunity like anyone else is, whether you’re on a tendered offer or not, to make plays and contribute to the team, and that success begets more success. If you’re getting people who are on the fence, and this is where I was, where maybe you have some Division II offers, but the phenotype of the individual says, ‘I want to go for the best,’ the Badgers are able to get them because they know there is an opportunity for walk-ons to make an impact on the team.