Sellinger said he noticed pain in his senior year of high school after sports practices. He said he took Advil and tried to ignore it for most of his first year of college.
“I guess I was always hoping it could go away,” Sellinger said. “I thought if I tried hard enough, I would be all right.”
But by February 2014, Sellinger had a limp. He could not ignore the pain anymore and realized, at a doctor’s appointment in April, he would not return to the Naval Academy.
“Right once I saw (the orthopedist) type in ‘ankylosing spondylitis,’ I was like, ‘That’s it. It’s over,’” he said.
In his first year at UNC, Sellinger said he felt lost and changed majors multiple times.
“That first year was definitely not a good time for me in terms of just the place I was at mentally,” he said.
Duncan Mollner, a senior at the Naval Academy, said Sellinger has one of the best work ethics he has ever seen — and for that reason, it was particularly difficult to watch his friend be discharged.
“I would describe Jake as passionate," Mollner said. "When he gets his mind on something, he commits himself wholeheartedly."
Two years later, Sellinger, a senior computer science and applied math major, is the president of the Tar Heel Weight Lifting Club.
Sellinger started Olympic weightlifting just 14 months ago. He trains in the Tar Heel Training Center about 12 hours a week—whenever it is open for drop-in and he doesn’t have class.
“It’s an artful sport," he said. "It looks very brute, but in order to move a lot of weight from the ground to over your head takes a lot of skill as well. You can’t just be strong. You have to think a lot.”
He said he doubts dropping hundreds of pounds is good for anyone’s back, and especially not with arthritis.
“I wasn’t going to let that condition limit what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to be strong.”
Senior Ryan Court said Sellinger convinced him to join the weightlifting club last year when they ran into each other at the gym.
“It’s hard to start something as technical and complicated as Olympic Weightlifting so it’s very intimidating, but Jake is very, very patient,” Court said.
Sellinger said he realized he can embody military values without wearing a uniform.
“All the principles and desires and motivation I had at Navy to be a leader, to be a role model, to be a person of integrity, aren’t limited to being at Navy,” he said.