Overcoming adversity is a theme that resonates with many; it can strike a nerve with anyone who has had to overcome unexpected circumstances.
Among other reasons, this is why this has been a special season for Auburn basketball fans. After two of the program’s top players were told they would not be able to play as a result of an ongoing NCAA investigation, expectations were low.
“Basketball is my favorite sport, and the one thing I wanted to see was Auburn to be in the NCAA tournament. I mean I didn’t expect it all, you know, with all the circumstances we were under, but Bruce Pearl works miracles,” said Chandler Fullman, president of the student section.
With adversity in his own life, Fullman has been able to personally appreciate the struggle to overcome an unfortunate set of unexpected obstacles.
On the first day of golf tryouts in his freshman year of high school, in his favorite lime-green shirt, Fullman had his life changed forever.
“I remember my coach yelling to get up off the floor, and I was like, ‘Coach I can’t feel my legs,’” Fullman said. “And I remember the nurse coming up there asking me what my name was, who was I. And then I went into a coma for 17 days.”
He suffered an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain formed before birth. The effects of the injury are similar to a stroke and left Fullman in the hospital for over 56 days.
“I tell people it wasn’t rough on me. It was like a 17-day nap. Try being my parents though,” Fullman said.
Fullman’s mother, Lisa Fullman, said the 17 days
After waking up in the Auburn-decorated hospital room, Fullman had to relearn how to walk, talk and live normally.
To this day, Fullman has impaired movement throughout his right side. He has difficulty moving his right arm and has to use a leg brace, which is fittingly Auburn customized.
Fullman said it was emotionally difficult initially after the surgery, but he has learned to deal with it and thinks it’s important to be able to joke about it.
“My friends, they all call me Nemo because I’ve only got one fin that works,” Fullman said with a laugh.
Dan Heck, director of athletic marketing, is a part of the committee who selected Fullman to be The Jungle president. Heck said the Athletic Department had seen him at all types of sporting events since his freshmen year, which made him a “clear-cut favorite.”
“I think the one thing that’s impressed me the most about getting to know Chandler is just his passion for life in general,” Heck said. “He has a strong passion for his friends, his family, his school and his faith. He lives his life 110 percent, and it shows in everything he does."
Fullman came to Auburn to study to become a high school teacher and eventually an athletic director.
“I figured out that I don’t like kids,” Fullman said. “I mean I don’t mind kids, but I don’t think teaching is for me. I’ve got to find a job somewhere in sports.”
As is stated in his bio on his Twitter account, AUBURN SUPERFAN, Fullman is aspiring to be the future Auburn athletic director.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Fullman said with a smile. “I mean everybody’s got to dream.”
The injury may have ended his playing career, but being The Jungle president has allowed Fullman to still be involved in the game.
“Life is special, and you got to make the most of every day and enjoy it,” Fullman said. “I’m sure people judge me for my Twitter name, being in college, being 22 years old, but that’s what I enjoy. Sports is what I love.”
Fullman has found other ways to exercise this passion as well. He has coached a youth basketball team for the past four years at Auburn Parks and Rec Association, and the team won the championship this past season.
Fullman and the rest of The Jungle leadership have organized watch parties for several away games at Momma Goldberg’s and helped organize buses to take students to two of the away games.
“It’s way easier to be The Jungle president when your team is 24-5 and ranked 12th in the nation rather than two years ago being 11-20,” Fullman said.
Fullman said he knew Auburn was a legitimate contender when he traveled to see them defeat Tennessee on the road. He has been able to attend about eight away games.
“Away games are my favorite just because it’s like us against the world, and hearing that crowd shut up when they know it’s over is a pretty cool moment,” Fullman said.
The historic season on the court has produced a lot of memorable moments for Fullman.
Some of his favorites were getting revenge against Alabama in a blowout win and beating Connecticut, a traditional powerhouse, by 25 in front of a packed-out arena on the day before Christmas Eve.
The final home game serving as The Jungle president was especially memorable. The Tigers beat South Carolina to clinch a share of the regular-season SEC championship.
“I mean I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Fullman said. “Going out on top like that, SEC champions. It was an amazing scene. I’m just blessed to be a part of it.”
Fullman was extremely excited to see Patrick Keim, the only senior on the team, go out on top. Fullman grew up playing against Keim and has seen him overcome his own adversity of being a walk-on to earn a scholarship.
“I don’t think people understand or appreciate how much he does for the team off the court,” Fullman said. “He’s building relationships, he’s a real team player. I love seeing him succeed.”
Fullman was fortunate enough to be invited by Bruce Pearl to a pre-season practice. Pearl asked what the team could do for Fullman and the student section.
“I said that it just comes down to one word for me: March,” Fullman said. “I want to be playing deep into March. That got all the guys fired up, and they were like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Auburn is projected to be one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament when the bracket comes out. How deep the team goes is yet to be seen, but Fullman has loved serving as The Jungle president.
“I’m really happy with what we’ve done this year, not because just of what we’ve done this single year, but because I think we’ve laid the groundwork and the foundation for years to come,” Fullman said.