In 2001, during a one-mile run my junior year of high school, I felt chest pains. My heart started racing. I remember leaning against the side of my car and praying Not again.
I had been seeing a heart specialist in Somerset, KY to monitor irregular heartbeats which had started causing my heart to palpitate. A company in Atlanta had requested that I send results to them through a heart monitor every day for the past month. (Imagine the cool points that bad boy won amongst my peers.) After the run, I remember getting to my house, collapsing on the floor, and recording the heart rate with the attached monitor. The rate was above 250 beats per minute, and it kept this pace up for an hour. A week later, my cardiologist had me visit Lexington for a heart ablation – so that the heartbeat would return to normal. We prayed. And, they were able to successfully burn eight spots that were instigating the additional heartbeat, and…things felt much better!
A few months later, I remember returning to the basketball courts and being afraid that the arrhythmia would return. Every time I took a jump shot or started to jog, the fear of being out-of-control would return. Thankfully, the arrhythmia remained absent for the rest of my junior year and all of my senior year of high school. The choice to push ahead was solely mine, but I didn’t want to let anyone down either. My senior year was a tough experience, and I was able to encourage the under-classmen in athletics (and academics), I hoped. I went to college and didn’t think this health ailment or any other would affect me again.
Fast forward to the spring of 2005, I was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky. I felt the strain of a busy finals week and the side effects of an unhealthy diet (‘Thank you, DiGiorno’s’), and I knew something else was awry. One morning I found myself tanked on the side of the bathroom tile floor, face wedged beside the tp dispenser. Suffice it to say: I survived that finals week operating at a crawl.
When I went home for the summer, I remember having an insatiable thirst and visiting the refrigerator countless times my first week back. Mom asked, “How long have you felt this way?” I shrugged my shoulders and turned a bottle of Gatorade up into the air. She shook her head, “We’re going to the doctor.” I remember closing the fridge and asking her something, but I don’t remember the drive to the medical center, the doctor saying, “Type 1 diabetes,” or my mom’s response. I wasn’t sure what to do next.
It wasn’t hereditary and no one else in the family suffered from sugar problems. I was devastated. In less than a week, I was scheduled to work at a program called the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program at Bellarmine University in Louisville. My role was to be a resident advisor and also a seminar teacher. With this new obstacle added to my cache, uncertainty of how well I’d be able to monitor my health (and teach in a classroom) loomed like the Headless Horseman. On the first day of class, I remember asking if any student would be willing to help assist. There were several hands that shot into the air. Then, I proceeded to explain my recent diagnosis, and I exclaimed that I was learning about this condition with them. One student said “I have a sister with that.” So, I nominated her as the first week’s helper. When I’d have a sugar low, I’d point to the student assistant, say, “Lead on,” and the other students rallied around that day’s helper, played some motivational song of the 2005 summer on our communal stereo I’d brought. This provided us all a chance to work together, and I’m still grateful for their willingness to help. I wish I knew the finally tally of Nerd boxes I consumed.
These “health” obstacles have helped me learn a lot about perseverance. Just in the few years since I’ve developed them, I’ve learned that succumbing to something shouldn’t be my first thought. My students at GSP taught me that. I appreciated their belief in me (and loyalty to the classroom). For these reasons and countless others, I know that battles must be won, or at the very least—fought for e-v-e-r-y d-a-y. For-ev-errr (imagine Squint from Sandlot saying this). The resolve of my coaches, teammates, parents, and former students to have faith in me has developed character that I didn’t know existed. The more I think about these “setbacks” I recognize that without battles, daily living really could not be fully appreciated. I’m thankful for these obstacles in my life, and I’m even more appreciative of the people who’ve helped me with them.
You know who you are!