Absolute misery, tears, anger, confusion, stomach pains, and mental pain are the only things my body seemed to recognize for those few months. In fact it was a very particular few months, September through October in the year of 2011 were the worst months of my life thus far. No matter how hard I fought to overcome these negativities, id spend most of those two months crying over them, and for a little while after also.

Cross-country was without a doubt the highlight of my four years in high school. I was introduced to the sport Freshmen year and was fortunate enough to stumble upon a driven team full of hard workers who finished 3rd in the state that year. Immediately I fell in love and being my competitive self; I needed to be the best. Freshmen year I finished 12th on the team, not bad for my first year, but still not acceptable. The next summer I trained my butt off to guarantee myself I would see improvements and I did. I did summer workouts with the team which I didn’t do the previous summer. I ran 5-6 days a week totaling around 35-40 miles. I finished my Sophomore year as 3rd on the team, getting there.

The summer of 2010 was the greatest summer of my life. I trained even harder, our number one runner had graduated and I knew I could surpass our number two. I ran 50 miles a week that summer as a junior; I lifted three days a week, biked over 40 miles a week and did a pool workout every Sunday that consisted of running in the water (similar to treading but with a running motion) for 10 minutes and then make a whirl pool and run against it 3 different times. That season I grew so much. I separated myself from the team and put my name up there as a top runner in every meet. I was my teams’ front runner. Finally they all jumped on my back, just how I liked it. I was county champ which carried on the tradition of a Western High runner holding that title, 15th in the region which was big seeing as it was my first time being All-Region, and 101 in the state that year with my team finishing 16th  overall. I ran a 16:25 that race and earned the 6th spot on the record board. However Senior year, that would be bumped to first.

Another summer came, and another summer I dominated with my training. Massacred everyone in any sort of speed workout, tempo, hills, or even just out distance them setting my new mileage record to 15 miles at once. The racing part of the season could not come any slower.

Not only did I love being good, I love just everything about cross. I love the smell of fall air, on the warm up, the smell of wet grass, woods, smelly cross-country bag (oddly enough it was a comforting smell) all rolled into one. I loved listening to “Forever” by Drake as I ran through the trails, wind trying to sneak its cold air through my sweats. Then changing into your spikes and walking over the grass, still covered in morning dew, that would seep through your thin spikes and turn your feet ice cold from the water mixed with cold air, but you loved it anyway. Then finally, the official tells you to strip down. That was my favorite part; I would get such a tidal wave of nervous thrashing in my body. Mix that with the fact I am now in just a tank and short shorts so my skin was just ice, ready to run.

Senior year, I was ready for the fun. Boy was I ready, and I was ready to set records. My body had a different plan though. My first race, I ran a pathetic 17:38. I was second on my team and 11th overall. Disgust was all I felt. Oh well, it’s just a fluke, I thought. It was not a fluke, I did awful in my first three races, and I had no clue why. I just couldn’t catch my breath the third mile every time and I just couldn’t go any more.

At the time SVSU was highly interested in scouting me. Their head coach would call me every weekend to check up on me and see how that week went as far as training and racing goes, and every week I would share more disappointing news. Their coach finally convinced me to get checked for an iron deficiency. Well wouldn’t you know, I had one.

An iron deficiency in a distance runner is almost as bad as it gets. A normal count for a male should be between 40-45. Mine was a dismal 9 in terms of an iron count. Still, not a big deal; they give iron supplements to replenish you. The down side, it takes three weeks to get back to a normal regulation. Regional’s was in a mere two weeks.

I took double the dosage to help replenish my body even quicker. I hadn’t broken 17 minutes yet that season and I needed to run a 16:15 to have a shot at Regionals to qualify for States. All I could do at that point was take the iron, and pray.

The real trouble hit me a few weeks later. I had started to feel less sad and upset once I figured out the problem I was facing wasn’t something that I was doing wrong, rather just a malfunction in my body that I know knew I had under control, and now that I knew what my problem was, I was fine. That was just the first problem I would come to find out. Portage is the second biggest meet in the country. It is a very big deal to our team and it is a challenging course. I had been on iron for a week and was now confident I could run back upfront with the best of them. I was wrong. I was wrong on a day where the temperature reached 95 and you couldn’t drink enough water, sitting in the shade even brought sweat to anyone’s forehead that day, the dust was unbearable as well seeing as it was so dry out, and on this sweltering day I tried to push too hard to prove to myself I was back on top. The result of myself being too confident in my health too quick…black out. I got up as quickly as I fell and stumbled in my last 800 meters only to spend the next hour in the back of an ambulance.

I couldn’t speak, my limbs were immobile, my chest felt like I had 10 cinder blocks on it, and breathing was anything but regulated. All I could do was lay there, accepting I couldn’t move, try to regulate my breathing and think to myself, Is this it? Did your competitiveness finally push you too far? You should have stopped when you felt the chest pains. Congrats you ended life at age 18. All I could do is lay there while the tears rolled out of my eyes and my family, coach, and team watched.

Well, I made it. I went to a specialist the next day to find out that I have Mitral Valve Prolaps. Basically my left valve never closes so when my heart starts pumping too fast eventually it pumps blood backwards. However this only happens when I get over heated. Another negative. I also found out my body temperature runs at 94.3 so my body over heats 4 degrees sooner than a normal one would. All together hearing this news crushed me. I love running, racing and competing more than anything, and to hear my body was basically designed for me to do the opposite…heartbreaking.

Needless to say my body couldn’t recover fast enough and I missed out on states my senior year. I have never cried harder. I lay in my bed for at least 7 hours, thinking, crying, and sleeping on and off, and all the while I never took my muddy spikes off and kept the muddy tank and shorts on to compliment them. The migraine was unbearable and I would never have imagined it was possible to shed so many tears. My face was blotchy red all night. I even got so worked up I vomited a few times. All this pain, all this sadness, all the emptiness I would feel until spring was a lot of physical and emotional pain to deal with. The worst part was it was caused by one thing: Being deficient.

Tyler DuRussel

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