KSU wrestler's career on hold

By Allen Moff Record-Courier sports writer Published:

Joe Boardwine has been forced to make a choice. A tremendously difficult choice. One that no successful, intelligent, vibrant 22-year old young man such as Boardwine himself would ever have to mull over if all was well and life was fair.

A choice between the sport he loves and, possibly, the life he lives.

The time was mid-December, 1997. Boardwine, a former two-time state wrestling champion at Streetsboro High School, had worked out religiously for the past several months in preparation for a much-anticipated senior season at Kent State and was admittedly in the best shape of his life. He was coming off a runner-up finish at the Mid-American Conference Tournament a year ago (134 pounds), and had been chosen captain of a Golden Flashes team that was the preseason pick to claim the 1998 MAC title.

Boardwine had returned home from an afternoon weigh-in when, suddenly, he experienced a frightening feeling. A feeling that still scares him to this day.

"That was the first episode, about six hours after I weighed in," Boardwine recalled. "My pulse raced really bad, and I experienced dizziness and shortness of breath."

Boardwine went to the emergency room that night, but his condition was eventually stabilized and he was released. However, the cause was never determined, and the "episodes" have persisted according to Boardwine.

"It has happened eight or nine times since then, once while I was driving and several times while I was just sitting down," said Boardwine. "I've tried to train, but every time I do I feel warning signs that something's not right. I wrestled for five days in a row (last month), but the signs kept coming back. So I've stopped training totally."

Boardwine is well aware of the three tragic wrestling deaths, all health-related, that have already occurred this season. He's also well aware that his eligibility ends after this season, and that the clock on his career is quickly ticking away along with the 1997-98 campaign.

Still, he's made his choice. A tremendously difficult choice.

"I'm pushed in a corner," said Boardwine. "Do I wrestle not knowing the risk involved, or do I not wrestle and never know what might have happened for me this year?

"Right now, I've made a decision that the symptoms are too severe and too frequent to just go on and hope nothing bad happens. I love wrestling, but it's not worth risking my life for. If it were a knee or anything else, I'd go for it."

But it's not. So Boardwine remains on the shelf, the cause of his condition still unknown.

Boardwine has recently undergone two tests to determine what has induced these "episodes," but so far nothing has been found.

"Some people think it's just stress," said Boardwine.

Boardwine is indeed a busy man leading a stressful life. He's a 3.85 student who works out feverishly hour after hour when healthy, and his wife, Missy, just recently gave birth to the couple's first child, Mason. So Boardwine is forced to juggle a slew of responsibilities as a student and wrestler while trying to support a family at the same time.

Still, Boardwine isn't buying into the stress theory.

"I've worked hard and kept busy my entire life, and this has never happened before," said Boardwine, a secondary education major who is on track to graduate next fall. "So why's it happening now? Something has to be causing it, and I need to find out what it is. But the process is eating up the whole year."

Obviously, the situation has drawn itself out much longer than anyone had originally expected. And Boardwine attributes much of that delay to insurance factors.

"Kent State said since this didn't happen during practice or a match that they won't cover my medical bills with their insurance," said Boardwine. "So I have to go through my own, and I'm in an HMO. They are notoriously slow in getting things like this taken care of."

Kent State athletic officials say they've done all they can for Boardwine.

"We treat every athlete the same," said Kent State head athletic trainer John Faulstick. "With cardiovascular symptoms, we initiate care and make sure they're past the crisis point. Then it's up to the athlete. That's the procedure we must follow according to our medical policy."

Boardwine wants to undergo further testing, so Kent State has refused to clear him to wrestle in actual matches until the results of those tests are available. But he has been cleared to work out.

"We're waiting to receive official clearance from his doctors, and to see what (Boardwine) wants to do next," said Faulstick.

For now, Boardwine is forced to sit on the sideline and wonder about the choice he's made. And he admits that the entire situation is wearing on him considerably.

"Every time I go to practice, I just about cry," said Boardwine, "Everybody wants me to wrestle, the coaches, my teammates, and myself. It's been a miserable situation. I'm pretty bummed out about it."

Kent State has only two regular season dual meets remaining before the MAC Championships, which the Flashes will host on March 7-8. So Boardwine's window of opportunity is closing quickly.

Still, Boardwine hasn't completely ruled out a comeback. But he admits that his chances of returning to the mat at this point are slim at best.

"The hospital is supposed to call me about taking the tests real soon," he said. "So a lot of what I do depends on what comes out of those tests. But will I return this year? I'd have to say probably not. It's definitely not looking good."

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