CARLSBAD — A pair of local volleyball standouts are forgoing collegiate athletics to focus on careers in medicine.
Twin brothers Brandon and Justin LeBlanc, who will graduate this year from Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, have a dream to chase, but it’s not on the volleyball court.
The LeBlancs plan to become pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and will begin their journey into medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
And while they won’t be playing volleyball in college, their prep sports careers are still intact on the sand with the U.S. National teams (U-19 and U-23). Also, the two will compete in the Beach World Championship Trials this month in Hermosa Beach.
The drive to become surgeons stems from when four-year-old Brandon was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a disorder related to an electrical problem with the heart.
Justin doesn’t have full capacity in one lung due to being born prematurely. The twins spent time in the newborn intensive care unit after heart murmurs led to Brandon’s diagnosis.
The condition prevented Brandon from typical activities as a toddler. But after surgery and recovery, Brandon was able to keep up with his brother, Justin.
However, youth sports are rigorous. At one point, the boys’ mother Sharon said it wasn’t clear whether Justin and Brandon would be able to live an active life.
The LeBlanc boys were often kept on the sideline to avoid Brandon going into cardiac arrest, Sharon said, walking and talking much later than their peers, which made for challenging early years.
“It’s a huge, tremendous growth they’ve had,” Sharon said. “It was very difficult. It was really a challenge. We didn’t know if Brandon was going to survive.”
Overcoming those difficult years left an indelible mark on the boys, who would later find success on the volleyball court thanks to their sister, Lauren, a standout player in her own right. The brothers took to the sport, although wins were few and far between in the beginning.
But after winning their first match at a tournament when they were both just 8 years old, Justin said it was like he “conquered the world.”
“I felt like it was the highest moment of my life,” Justin said with a laugh.
The two were four-year starters at Pacific Ridge — Brandon as an outside hitter and Justin at setter.
As the LeBlancs enjoyed success, the college recruiters started to take notice and they were offered several Division I opportunities. However, the LeBlancs’ drive to save lives was more important.
After earning good grades, the twin brothers did their research and found Johns Hopkins as the best university to study biology before advancing to medical school.
“We talked with my surgeon, and other surgeons, and they all said Johns Hopkins,” Brandon said. “It was the first place in which cardiothoracic medicine was practiced and developed. We always kind of knew that our goal was to become pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and set our mind to accomplish that goal.”
The boys are also ambassadors for Rady’s Children’s Hospital and raised roughly $550,000 for a give-a-thon last Christmas, Sharon said.
But they aren’t throwing in the towel on volleyball altogether. Brandon and Justin both said they will continue participating with Team USA’s beach volleyball program.