UConn OL Gus Cruz Happy To Be Back On The Football Field

UConn Huskies OL Gus Cruz looks on during practice on August 11, 2014 in Storrs, CT. Cruz missed the final seven games of 2013 with Myocarditis.

UConn Huskies OL Gus Cruz looks on during practice on August 11, 2014 in Storrs, CT. Cruz missed the final seven games of 2013 with a cardiac issue.

Imagine that you’re in your early 40’s, or any age, and your doctor tells you that you have a serious, possibly life threatening but curable issue with your heart or anything similar for that matter. Now imagine that you’re a college athlete in your early 20’s, in prime shape and are told the same thing.

We all have that injury or health issue that gives us the chills or makes us look away when we hear about it or see it.

For me, it’s whenever I see someone with a leg injury having blown out my ACL twice during college or so I thought.

But as I listened to UConn Huskies offensive lineman Gus Cruz tell his story about the cardiac issue that sidelined him for the final seven games of 2013, Myocarditis, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to own my battle with my aortic valve leaking badly.

As he talked about how at first he was having shortness of breath doing things, I said to myself, I totally remember that.  He had been experiencing the symptoms all season long and never thought it was what it was.

Like me, he tried to battle through it but ultimately couldn’t.

“After South Florida, I couldn’t even get through the warm-ups without questioning if I could keep going,” said Cruz. “I went up to the trainers and said, ‘I can’t do it.'”

After Cruz got his diagnosis of Myocarditis, he began to think about things, questioning his own mortality, waking up during the middle of the night with palpitations, some anxiety, etc.

Because Cruz was battling Myocarditis, his heart wasn’t pumping blood properly, making it work much harder. For me, it was the same thing despite the fact that it was my aortic valve leaking.

And what made it worse for Cruz was the fact that he had some complications, developing clots in his lungs and legs.

“There were a few months when it was, Am I done with school? Will the team want me back? What’s going to happen to me in the future? Am I going to grow old?”

“Yeah, it’s dramatic, but there are times when it was like, ‘This could be it.'” Cruz said.

“You don’t want that stuff in your head.”

That one resonated with me more than everything else.

For someone to understand it, you have to have gone through it or something similar. It really does take over your mind and that’s what causes the anxiety and sometimes, the palpitations. Other times, it’s the illness or problem itself that causes those two things as well.

He would go on medications to fix the Myocarditis and blood thinners to take care of the clots. Both ended his season.

So again as I listened to Cruz continue to tell his story, I felt for him while getting chills. After he was done talking, I walked away and gathered myself for a second.

Like I had done in the past, he was telling his story, talking about things he missed that he couldn’t do, that he could once again do.

Like me, He was alive and able to talk about that sort of stuff.

And while I’ll have a good seat to watch him and the UConn football team play on Friday night, Cruz will have an even better one.

He’ll be out there in the trenches with his brothers.

And for him, that’s the best seat in the house.

photo credit: ian bethune – sox & dawgs