Former KSU track captain passes away after 15-month battle with rare cancer

John Oberlin

Isaac Perkins, former eligibility director of athletics and standout track and field athlete, passed away yesterday. Perkins, 25, battled a rare form of cancer since August 2004. He is survived by his wife, Jaci.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Isaac Perkins, eligibility director for the athletics department, died yesterday after a 15-month battle with primary sarcoma of the brain, a rare form of cancer. He was 25.

A native of Columbus, where he attended Grove City High School, Perkins came to Kent State to run track in 1998. Perkins was a triple jumper and captain for the track team and received a championship ring in 2000. In 2004, he completed his master’s degree in sports administration and began working as the compliance and eligibility director.

In August 2004, Perkins went to the emergency room after experiencing problems with his vision and balance. A couple days before fall classes, doctors conducted an MRI and diagnosed Perkins with primary sarcoma of the brain. He was in surgery the following Monday.

Primary sarcoma usually affects bone mass and tissue, but Perkins’ was only in his brain. In an Oct. 14 interview at Perkins’ condo in Streetsboro, where he lived with his wife, Jaci, Perkins said everything the doctors were doing was trial and error.

“I’m a trial of one,” he said.

During the last 15 months, Perkins went through tests, chemotherapy, last-effort medications, three brain surgeries, worship and prayer. Perkins regularly attended the House of The Lord in Akron, where “everything’s happening right now,” he said.

“You never know how much you mean to somebody or how much somebody means to you until their time is already over or their time is almost up,” Perkins said in the October interview. He referred to his cancer as a great opportunity to help others and test his faith in God.

Perkins won that test, said Robert Heller, whose office is adjacent to where Perkins worked in the M.A.C. Center.

Heller, associate athletic director, said Perkins’ cancer was a challenge, not a struggle. He called Perkins a perfect example of faith in God and said he was a warrior on the track. Come championship day, Perkins ignored the complications of his cancer and competed.

“He scored points for that team,” Heller said.

Perkins was in Heller’s office as recently as last week, where Perkins said he was going to beat the cancer.

“You have to take that attitude,” Heller said, “because if not, the disease will suck you in.”

Kristin Reed, assistant athletic counselor, was a fellow graduate assistant. She said Perkins was selfless, noting that before he knew he had cancer, he was involved in Make a Difference Day and Relay for Life. Perkins participated without expecting anything in return, Reed said.

Tonya Lee, who now coaches at the University of Georgia, recruited and coached Perkins at Kent State. She said Perkins’ positive presence and committed demeanor drew her to him during the recruiting process.

“He lived life like each day was another opportunity to talk to people and be a positive influence,” Lee said. “You could tell he was working toward something.”

Aside from athletics and working out, Perkins also enjoyed listening to and playing gospel, Latin music and old- school and new-school jazz.

Perkins’ family could not be reached for information about funeral arrangements. A memorial service in Grove City is being planned.

Contact features correspondent John Oberlin at [email protected].