Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to live with a heart condition that, for no obvious reason, can cause sudden death.
Sounds scary, right? Try walking in Christian Hoyle’s shoes.
“You hear about the athletes just randomly dropping and dying on the field, and that’s basically what I have,” Hoyle says.
Hoyle’s heart is vulnerable to arrhythmia, a condition that causes one’s heart to either beat too fast or too slow. In his case, his heart doesn’t beat as fast as he needs it to when he’s exerting himself.
This may be more of a nightmare for athletes than a physical injury: They can come back from an ACL tear or Tommy John surgery stronger than before, but a heart condition such as this turns even a light workout into a tightrope walk with no safety net. Especially tough for Hoyle is that he was forced to miss his junior season for both of his favorite sports — football and soccer.
And it all goes back to one day, when he was at the doctor’s office for something else completely.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I was sick before exam week, and I passed out in the doctor’s office,” Hoyle says. “So, they took me to the hospital, but the hospital said I was alright.”
For the time being, he was. But he said the doctor had a feeling that something else was wrong, so he suggested that Hoyle see a cardiologist. He was tested in every way possible, and the problem was discovered: His heart wasn’t pumping at a normal rate.
“They couldn’t find out exactly what it was, but I went through surgery and all that,” Hoyle says. “It’s getting better, but I’m on medication.”
The senior has a genetic disorder, often referred to as Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome. It’s a treatable condition, but it’s often hiding in plain sight: Young, otherwise healthy people can be felled at any time during exercise. Children whose parents have the condition have a 50% chance of inheriting it, and there are 4,000 deaths per year among children and young adults with SADS.
ONE YEAR LOST
Even with surgery and medication, treating Hoyle’s heart wasn’t going to be a quick, easy process. He couldn’t participate in any physical activity, even a light workout or short run, for a year.
“At first, I couldn’t do anything strenuous on the heart — anything that could give me a fast heart rate,” Hoyle says. “I could have passed out. My whole junior year, I was limited to doing nothing.”
Although Hoyle speaks openly about it now, it’s obvious the year was tough for him. Some people may relish the opportunity not to work for so long, but, for athletes such as Hoyle, this kind of treatment is like locking up their souls and hiding the key.
“The process was really tiring and frustrating,” he says. “It’s really awful going through all that — not being able to do what you love with soccer and football.”
So, as soon as Hoyle could work out again, he wasted no time hitting the gym.
“I started slowly being able to work out a little bit, with light weight, and do five miles an hour on the treadmill,” he says. “Now, I can do about eight miles an hour on the treadmill. I’m not supposed to go any faster than that.”
He’s not allowed to run long distances, for the time being, so he was limited even when he could come back to sports. Going back to being the football team’s placekicker wasn’t too bad, but it did change the way in which he could play soccer.
“I can only play goalie,” he says. “But, I’m at least able to do something. I love the sport, and I love being able to do it, so I’m happy with (playing) goalie.”
BACK IN ACTION
“He’s been a pleasant surprise for us,” head coach Wayne Ward says. “He had had some medical issues and kept saying, ‘Coach, I’m gonna get cleared, I’m gonna get cleared.’ And, finally, the doctors cleared him, and he’s been doing a really good job for us.”
Hoyle himself is quick to credit his parents for keeping him focused. Especially his mother, who drove him to every bimonthly doctor’s appointment in St. Petersburg.
“She was really on top of me,” he says. “My mom’s always been my rock of my life; she stays with me in everything I do. She feels everything that I go through, so she was really hard on it and made sure I stayed strong. She didn’t want to lose me.”
Hoyle wants to keep playing sports at a college level, too. He wants to go to a university in Florida — not of Florida, he stresses — and continue being a placekicker in football or do anything with soccer.
“That would be the life for me,” he says.
But, for now, he’d like to focus on tomorrow’s matchup with Sickles. He’s just as excited to talk about some of the things that he and the Raiders have seen on film as he is to talk about his recovery.
“We have a chance to win,” he says. “We just need to put pressure on the quarterback.”
If there’s anything Hoyle taught his teammates that applies to this game, it’s that few obstacles are impossible to tackle.
Contact Justin Kline at email@example.com.
LAST WEEK’S ACTION
Armwood 40, Strawberry Crest 6
Notes: Armwood did all of its work in the first half, taking the opportunity to cruise in the second. Jordan Smith scored the Chargers’ only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, but the PAT missed. With the loss, Crest finished the 2013 season at 6-4.