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Brother's spirit pushes Wolpin to keep running
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA - As Ryan Wolpin laid on the training table with his ankle wrapped in ice, he remembered a motivating force that pushes him when times get difficult.
Santa Margarita's record-setting running back always remembers this person.
Every time he puts on his football jersey. Every time he flips down the sun visor in his car. Every time his ankle hurt while helping the Eagles reach Friday's CIF Pac-5 Division second round game against St. Bonaventure of Ventura at Trabuco Hills.
Wolpin always remembers his late brother, Jack, who died from a rare form of cancer, neuroblastoma, just days before his third birthday.
Wolpin was 7 at the time, and just getting to know Jack.
"I think about him almost every day," Wolpin said this week. "It probably got into me and really made an impact when I was younger when I realized how tough my brother was mentally and physically.
"If I was ever going through a hard time or I felt like I had it tough or I was suffering, I would just think about how a small, almost 3-year-old could be going through all this and still at the end of the day, have a smile on his face and give me a hug."
Jack's spirit lives on in his older brother today – on and off the football field.
Wolpin honors Jack by wearing jersey No. 5, which signifies the date – May 5, 2002 - his brother died. He also has a picture of Jack attached to the sun visor in his car.
Jack helped inspire Wolpin to overcome a bone contusion in his ankle in the Eagles' Trinity League opener against Servite.
The 5-foot-9, 192-pound senior played the next week against Mater Dei but re-injured his ankle. Wolpin didn't play against Orange Lutheran but has felt better the past three games.
Wolpin matched his career-high with 216 yards on 25 carries in a 38-13 victory against El Toro in the first round of the playoffs.
His physical therapy from ProSport in Rancho Santa Margarita has helped but Jack remains the constant inspiration.
"(He) definitely helps me through tough times and injuries," said Wolpin, whose 3,405 career yards rank fourth in school history. "I know someone is always watching over me."
Wolpin's connection with his brother extends off the field. The 18-year-old volunteers for fundraising activities associated with Jack's doctor from Children's Hospital of Orange County, Michael Muhonen.
Wolpin, his parents and sister also volunteer for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.
In May, several of Wolpin's teammates and Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch attended a fundraising walk for the foundation in Irvine.
Santa Margarita has faced its own adversity, from the loss of quarterback Johnny Stanton to a knee injury to three standouts transferring to Mission Viejo.
"It's about what you can come back from and how strong you can get in the process," Wolpin said.
Those are two lessons he mastered at a young age.