A former two-time All-American linebacker at Illinois State, Colton Underwood ’14 always trained hard with no thought of his lungs supporting every workout. He still makes exercise and healthy eating a part of his daily routine and had never before experienced a respiratory illness.
So it was uncharted territory when Underwood, who was diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) in mid-March despite taking precautions, struggled to catch his breath. Some nights were better than others, and even the worst weren’t especially painful for the Redbird who appeared in seasons of the Bachelor and Bachelorette.
Now living in southern California, Underwood described in an Instagram post that he felt like he had access to just 20 percent of his lungs at his worst moments. He caught the virus at a time when U.S. cases were just beginning to spike and many stay-at-home orders were not yet in place.
Despite the fear of uncertainty in contracting a disease that was shutting the world down at a rapid pace, Underwood believed he could beat it. He also demonstrated his philanthropic spirit that’s come to define him, focusing on how his story could help others.
“It was such a weird journey emotionally,” Underwood said. “I was scared, nervous, and anxious, but there was a part of me that was hopeful that since I got it so early on I could turn it into a positive.”
Underwood kept his 2.2 million Instagram followers updated constantly on his condition, always urging people to stay safe and strong. On March 20, he filmed a short video telling his fans that he had indeed tested positive. “I couldn’t believe I was a statistic,” he said. After weeks of self-isolating at his girlfriend Cassie Randolph’s family home, Underwood announced on April 7 that he had made a full recovery.
While he had many uncomfortable moments in a third-floor bedroom where meals were delivered outside the door, Underwood was excited to get back to full health so he could contribute in the fight against the virus.
He has always tried to use his platform for the greater good, launching the Colton Underwood Legacy Foundation in 2015 while playing in the National Football League. His passion for giving back has only grown since his notoriety skyrocketed thanks to his presence on ABC’s reality hit shows.
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I just want to take a second and thank this beautiful woman and her family for taking such good care of me. Not only physically, but mentally too (and I’m probably the most high maintenance patient). She’s hardworking, passionate, understanding, kind and has the biggest heart. Her family opened up their doors to us while we were in quarantine and through everything we stuck together. I have made a full recovery from the coronavirus and we managed to keep the entire family healthy as well. I am now working with medical professionals to figure out the best way to support their efforts against the coronavirus. I can’t thank @cassierandolph and the entire Randolph family enough for caring for me while I’m away from my family.
Underwood is now putting in efforts to assist healthcare professionals, essential employees, and citizens in need. He is working with the Red Cross of Orange County, California, assisting VOSS Water to deliver bottles to essential workers on the frontlines, and just recently announced he would be giving away $1,000 to a random Instagram follower once a week for the next seven weeks. He’s hoping that cash will go to a person or family that needs it the most.
In addition, Underwood has had a couple of exciting projects launch. Last month his first book, The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV, was published. He decided to keep the original release date to provide people a distraction or a chance to take something from it during the pandemic. He’s also started a video chat called Coffee with Colton, available on AllSocial. The purpose is to talk with people about their passions and true identities. He and Randolph also hope to Zoom bomb an Illinois State class sometime soon, as he always remembers his collegiate roots.
Underwood faced a significant hurdle and was able to clear it through perseverance and relying on people around him. He understands how many of his fellow Redbirds are trying to overcome obstacles of their own during the crisis. He urges everyone to keep their heads up, keep moving forward, and find new means of self-improvement.
“There’s going to be adversity in every corner and every turn, but it’s about how you react to that adversity,” Underwood said. “You can use it to challenge yourself to grow more and also use the time to challenge yourself to think outside the box.”