“As your doctor, I can not let you keep playing soccer. It’s too dangerous to you and your health at this point. It’s time to let it go, Chloe.”
Those were the words that changed my life and my fitness journey forever.
My Background with Sports and Fitness
When people ask me about my fitness journey and when it started, I never really know how to answer, mainly because I’ve been active my whole life. There wasn’t a defining moment in which I said to myself, “that’s it. I’m going to start working out now.” Which is what I feel like people expect me to say when they ask me that question. So in a sense, my fitness journey started the day my mom signed me up for my first sport. However, it drastically changed when I was diagnosed with an unexpected heart condition at 19 years old.
Growing up, I played every single sport imaginable; soccer, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, softball, cheerleading, track, even tumbling. There was nothing I loved more than moving my body in some way, shape, or form; and to this day, that’s still true. My favorite form of movement, though, was always soccer.
I loved soccer more than anything in the world. I loved the feeling of running around the field for 90 minutes straight, I loved the immediate high I got from scoring a goal, and admittedly, I loved the adrenaline rush of pushing down anyone who got in my way. This is why it came as no surprise to my friends or family when I decided to play soccer in college. What was a bit of a surprise, though, was that I got recruited to play Division I soccer, which had been my dream since middle school. I was ecstatic.
So, on August 3rd, 2014, I moved from a small town in Iowa to a small town in Illinois to play soccer at Eastern Illinois University. I knew that Division I soccer was going to be a whole new ball game compared to high school soccer; I was prepared for the mental and physical challenges that I was about to face by playing such a taxing sport at such a high level. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the series of truly unfortunate events that would lead me into a downward spiral exactly one year later.
When My Life Started to Change for the Worst
One day, in March of 2015, my best friend came to the dorms and told us that she had Mono. I didn’t think anything of it, honestly, until a week later when my throat started hurting and I felt extremely tired and fatigued. Knowing that my best friend had just been diagnosed with Mono, I went to the health services building on campus and requested to be tested for it, as well. They did a Rapid Mono Test on me, which meant the results came back in minutes: negative.
I was confused but figured the tiredness and fatigue must be all in my head. Also, since the test was negative, the doctors couldn’t write me an ‘excuse from soccer practice’ note, which meant that I had to suck it up and keep going to soccer practice and weight lifting sessions, which meant working out once to twice a day nearly every day. I’ll admit, working out felt harder than it did a month prior, but I kept reminding myself that I was just being lazy and needed to train harder to get in better shape.
A month later, the school year was over and I went back home to Iowa for the summer. Our soccer coaches gave us a summer conditioning packet, which included a summer-long workout program to keep us in shape and ready to go for the next season, which would commence in August once again. However, when I finally got home, I’m not kidding when I say that I slept for two weeks straight. I was awake for maybe a couple of hours a day? If that. But, again, I didn’t think much of it.
Not until I finally got myself out of bed and decided to start doing the summer workouts that my coach had given us. First up: a nice and easy jog. I’ve always been in really good cardiovascular shape, as in I could run a few miles without getting tired, so I was shocked, scared, and confused when my legs gave out a ¼ mile into my run. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t run any further, so I went home and told my mom.
The next day, I went to my doctor and told her what happened, so she decided to run an EKG on me. She did the test, looked at me, looked at the results, and then said she was going to do one more test. She looked at me and said, “Your EKG is coming back abnormal. We need to run some more tests.”
The next 6 months that followed that day were pretty much a blur. I was in and out of doctors offices almost every single week, missing more school than I ever had in my life, and crying because no one could tell me what was wrong with me. My symptoms were simple: every single time that I tried to run or play soccer, I couldn’t breathe, my legs would give out, and I even passed out a few times. I went to specialist after specialist, where some diagnosed me with asthma, some diagnosed me with severe anxiety, and one even told me that nothing was wrong and it was all in my head.
It wasn’t until I passed out while I was sitting at my desk during Economics class that my Athletic Trainer had enough and she took me to the ER. I was there for maybe 20 minutes when the ER doctor came into my room and said to me, “Your heart rate is concerningly low and the only thing keeping the blood pumping through your body right now is your concerningly high blood pressure. Do you have a cardiologist at home? Because I think we need to do emergency surgery to put a pacemaker in.”
*Due to the length of this story, it’s finished in Part 2*