Sports

Wrestling with heart: First-year Falcon fights cardio fatigue

Keegan Warwick, a junior wrestling for South Whidbey High School for the first time, competes with a heart condition that exhausts him.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Keegan Warwick, a junior wrestling for South Whidbey High School for the first time, competes with a heart condition that exhausts him.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The excitement on Keegan Warwick’s face spread quickly to his teammates last week.

He had just pinned his Lakewood opponent and there were lots of reasons for smiling and gasping for air. It was the first match for Warwick, a junior at South Whidbey High School. The victory was his first this season and of his career, and also the first pin.

And one motto of South Whidbey wrestling proved very true for Warwick: wrestling takes a lot of heart. For Warwick, who was born with a congenital heart defects that makes him easily fatigued, the pin in the second round was years in the making. Falcon head coach Jim Thompson turned to his squad and to the scorers table, all smile and enthusiasm, and sternly exclaimed, “That kid has a heart condition, and he has more heart than anyone out here.”

“That’s my goal this year, go as hard as possible,” Warwick said. “When I pinned the guy, (Thompson) was over-excited because that shouldn’t have happened.”

Not that Warwick is a bad wrestler, just his technique is raw in his first year of high school wrestling. When Warwick takes to the mat, however, his coaches said instincts kick take over. Thompson noted the junior’s balance, footwork and quick reactions helped him against the Lakewood junior varsity wrestler in the 132-pound division. As the season progresses, Thompson expects the grappling part to catch up with Warwick’s work habits.

“He does not like to stop in that wrestling room,” Thompson said, adding that Warwick’s competitiveness carries onto the mat.

“It just kills him when he has to stop. You can see it in his eyes. We’ve got to say, ‘You have to back off.’”

The condition is old news to Warwick. He was born with a heart murmur and had surgery when he was a toddler. The surgery basically shut down one of his heart valves, which causes the fatigue and left him with a scar that runs half the length of his torso.

“It’s just there. It doesn’t work or anything,” Warwick said of the valve. “It takes a lot out of me because it’s trying to pump blood to my body but not getting to my legs or I get dizzy or light-headed.”

UNTESTED

As a first-year grappler for the Falcons, Warwick is still untested. He had not experienced an all-day tournament, which South Whidbey has a full slate of this season. Thompson made it a scheduling priority last year to find tournaments that included JV wrestlers. That means as the season continues, Warwick will endure anywhere from three to five matches in a day.

At a maximum of six minutes per match, excluding an extra period, Warwick could be on the mat for 30 minutes. For wrestlers with fully functioning hearts, that’s a daunting task and one well understood by Warwick.

“I’m more tired than most of the guys,” Warwick said of himself after the first round. “By the second match, I’m just trying to stand up.”

Wrestling for a full three rounds each match isn’t in Warwick’s or his coach’s plans.

“I said, ‘Hey if you go out there and pin the kid we don’t need to worry about it,’” Thompson said.

His coaches and teammates know about the condition, but there aren’t any special allowances in the mat room. During practice, Warwick said he had felt some of his sparring partners take it easy. It’s a courtesy he has not extended to his teammates.

“Some of them, they don’t always go to their max,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re going easy on me or easy on themselves, but I try to go as hard as I can.”

FAMILY MATTER

Wrestling is in the Warwick family. His older brothers Brett and Kurt both wrestled for Thompson in the Falcon program. Brett was a four-year grappler, and Kurt was on the team his senior year. Their father, Shawn Warwick, wrestled during his senior year in high school, too. Joining the Falcon team, Keegan Warwick said, was “to continue the family legacy and be the man I want to be, like my older brothers.”

Clearing his annual stress test at Seattle Children’s Hosptial was easier than his parental checks. His grades needed to be maintained at an acceptable level in his parents’ eyes.

“I had total support, I still have full support,” Warwick said.

 

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