Still beating the odds
Sports fan with cerebral palsy
wins (again) with NCAA pool software
Like the scores of men's
basketball teams that will plunge into March
Madness this week, Jeff Nally has high hopes for
the frenzied weeks ahead.
He plans to win his NCAA
Tournament pool this year, a trick he hasn't
turned since 1983. He'll keep plugging for another
22 years, if that's what it takes.
Nally, 33, is as persistent as a
bad cold. Taking three or four credit hours a
semester, he graduated from the University of
Louisville in 2001 with a degree in finance.
It took him nine years.
"If you had to type your
homework with your nose," said Nally's father,
Bill, "it would take you a while to graduate too."
Nally beamed. He's proud of
doing things the hard way. It's the only way he
Nally nearly died before he was
born. The umbilical cord wrapped around his neck
and cut off oxygen to his brain for six minutes.
It left him with cerebral palsy.
His body is wracked with
neurological spasms that severely limit his
ability to speak, walk and use his hands. So he
uses his head instead.
With a bright mind (as evidenced
by his 3.0 grade-point average at U of L) and a
nimble nose (which pecks out 20 words per minute),
Nally invented a computer program that makes
running an NCAA Tournament pool easier than
sinking a wide-open layup -- even with 500
different brackets to track and score.
Nally also designed a Web site,
www.poolspreadsheets.com, where he sells the
program for $12.75. Seventy people from Kentucky
to Korea bought the program last year, and 16
already have procured the improved version for the
2005 tournament, which starts on March 17.
"He's got most of the bugs out
now," Nally's mother, Pat, said.
"I've got all the bugs
out," Nally corrected, noting that the new version
is "50 percent better."
Nally loves exceeding
expectations. When he was a preschooler, his
physical limitations were so profound that doctors
and therapists assumed that his mental capacity
also was diminished, which is often the case.
Pat Nally knew better. She'd
seen Jeff, then 4, teach himself the alphabet by
watching "Wheel of Fortune." She'd heard him call
out letters and try to solve puzzles.
"People told us we were
dreaming," Pat Nally said. "They'd say, 'These
kids just don't do that.' And I'd say, 'I'm
telling you, he knows what he's doing. He's
Jeff's kindergarten teacher
assumed otherwise. He spent his first day of
school sitting alone in a corner, doing nothing.
"We went to the principal and
said, 'Look, Jeff said yesterday (that his class)
did this, this, this and this,' " Pat Nally
recalled. "They were, like, 'Oh my God! He knows
what's going on.' We never had a bit of trouble
Bill Nally, a retired manager
who worked 31 years at Philip Morris, begs to
"We got a lot of bad advice when
Jeff was young," he said. "Jeff had a drooling
problem, which most kids with CP do, and doctors
wanted to cut his saliva ducts and let the drool
drain to the back of his mouth. We said no way,
and, sure enough, Jeff got the problem under
The Nallys, who live near
Okolona, insisted that their son have a mainstream
education. Jeff's electric wheelchair was a
familiar sight at Manual High School, where he was
a member of the student council and even earned a
varsity letter for football. Coach Steve Haag
noticed that Nally had attended every game,
invited him to the team's postseason banquet and
surprised Nally with the award.
Nally graduated from Manual in
1989 but postponed college to have surgery aimed
at lengthening the muscles in his legs. Six years
later, he was back in surgery again, this time for
a malfunctioning stomach valve.
The procedure was complicated by
Jeff's lack of body fat, and he contracted a
severe case of pneumonia.
"We almost lost him," Bill Nally
said. "That was a tough year."
There were many of those when
Jeff was growing up, but the Nallys are a tough
family that strived to live life as normally as
possible. Jeff went everywhere and did everything
that his parents and two siblings did, including
traveling on vacations to Walt Disney World,
Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Las Vegas.
"Jeff is my blackjack buddy,"
said Maggie Lawson, a family friend. "Sometimes
the dealers think that because he's handicapped,
he doesn't know what he's doing, but he can
outplay them anytime.
His younger sister, Marcia
Tharp, enrolled in Jeff's first class at Jefferson
Community College. She got out his books, opened
them to the correct page and made sure his
homework got turned in. When Jeff earned a higher
grade in the class, she jokingly said, "I don't
like this at all!"
The Nallys' youngest child,
Kyle, jokes that he was born to help carry Jeff
around. Kyle's body is everything Jeff's is not --
lean, athletic and strong. He lettered in
baseball, basketball and football at St. Xavier
High School, where he was a member of two state
championship football teams.
Jeff channels his athletic
energies into Texas Hold 'em, televised
sports and doping out the NCAA Tournament. His
favorite sport is baseball, but he is an astute
and passionate hoops fan who seemed downright
clairvoyant when he picked the upset winner of the
"He was filling out his bracket
and got down to Houston and North Carolina State
in the final," Bill Nally said. "His mom said, and
I quote, 'Tell him not to pick North Carolina
State. They can't beat Houston.' "
But they did, and 11-year-old
Jeff pocketed $300 from a pool at Philip Morris.
He was the only player who picked N.C. State.
Like the Wolfpack, Nally hasn't
conquered March Madness since.
A victory this year would cap a
run of good work and good fortune that saw him
complete his bracket-scoring program last year and
marry his wife, Liz, in 2003.
Liz also has cerebral palsy, but
there is little she can't do. Her ability to drive
gives the couple a welcome measure of
Nally knows there are many
things he will never be able to do for himself.
But unlike many people with cerebral palsy, he can
think for himself -- and for that he is deeply
"I'm lucky," he said.
ďMy Story in My Own WordsĒ
I am a die-hard sports enthusiast.
Physically, I have never been able to compete on
any field, but mentally I have a tremendous
competitive drive. I was born
with cerebral palsy. For most of my life,
my body didn't allow my competitive spirit many
outlets. However, with the birth of the
Internet, my competitive drive has thrived.
It has allowed me to create a small business
with the website
Internet has also allowed me to win three Fantasy
Baseball Championships, and play Texas Hold 'em
poker (four tables at the same time).
Believe it not, I do all of this by typing with my
nose at a rate of 20 words per minute. It
took me 9 years to get my Bachelor's Degree in
Finance at the University of Louisville
only because of how long it took me to do my
Being able to play fantasy baseball
and poker, both offline and online, is good for my
competitive psyche. However, my web site is
the biggest part of my story. I graduated
from college in 2001. For about three years,
I applied for all kinds of jobs. Even though
businesses are not supposed to discriminate, most
of the time, they focused on what I couldn't do
rather than what I could do. My web site is
www.poolspreadsheets.com on which I sell a
March Madness pool management program. This
has been my greatest accomplishment. Nobody
helps me with any aspects of the web site or
program. In March, on Selection
Monday, I was at my computer for about 19 straight
hours handling customer service. Needless to
say, my nose was very red. Selling my
software gives me a great sense of self-worth.
Unlike some businesses, I truly care about my
customers. If somebody has a problem using
my program, I will rack my brain until I find a
solution. The program was created solely on
the desire to fill out my own bracket. It
became a full-fledge scoring program after a few
Visual Basic courses. I try to improve it
every year. My customers really appreciate
my work. Most of the people who buy my
program donít know that I have a disability.
However, the ones that have found out are blown
away that Iíve created the program
only my nose.
My second greatest passion is
poker. I started to play online about three
years ago. Internet poker has gained me much
experience. I have tried to qualify
through World Series of Poker one-table satellites
six times at Caesar's, in Elizabeth, Indiana.
Although, I have not won yet, I have finished
second, four times. It's very frustrating,
but I will keep trying. Since I cannot
handle my cards or chips, my wife or mother goes
with me to act as my hands. The casino has
been very accommodating in allowing someone to
show my cards to me. Lately they have
even allowed me to sit beside the dealer so he/she
can show me my cards. Nobody really
intimidates me at the table. In fact, I have
busted so many players that they've given me a lot
of respect. Last year I started to play with
the Louisville Poker Tour.
Itís a free league that I play at local
bars/restaurants. Iíve qualified for the
finals. The grand prize is a seat at the
2007 World Series of Poker Main Event. It is
My fantasy baseball team
(Kentucky Pocket Aces) has won three
straight championships. I take this
very seriously. Since, I physically can't
pitch a shut out, coaching a virtual team is the
next best thing. The other people that I
compete against online, have no idea of
my disability. So when I win, it is on an
even playing field.