Lying in a bed at Inova Fairfax hospital last May, Preston Haugh’s mind wandered to the soccer field.
There was the time his freshman year when he and his Bishop Ireton teammates erased a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 win under the lights at Good Counsel. There was his curling, one-time finish to lead his Arlington club team over its Loudoun rivals in a ‘NoVa derby’ and a solo trip to his local park to practice his touch in the snow. There were travels up and down the East Coast and across the Atlantic Ocean, countless triumphs, and his strongest friendships. Ever since he first kicked a ball as a toddler, playing soccer had been his life.
But Haugh’s his life had changed a few minutes prior when doctors told him he had arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a heart condition that can render stressful cardio-vascular exercise lethal. When he passed out at practice last spring, Haugh was lucky that dreams of playing college soccer were all that died.
“The realization that I could have easily died – that was like woah, I’m 16, that’s crazy to think about,” Haugh said. “I just don’t like to think about it. I like to think about what I can do now.”
Haugh has done more than just think about what he can do. After he called the coaches who had been recruiting him to explain he would no longer be playing college soccer and adjusted to the hockey-puck sized heart monitor device under his collarbone, Haugh wholeheartedly immersed himself in what he can do. This fall, he has embraced a new role as an assistant coach of the Bishop Ireton team he had previously captained from the center of midfield and taken up one of the few sports that is not dangerous to his health – golf.
“I didn’t think of it as all of a sudden I got a bunch of free time. There’s no way I would be able to sit there for that long and do nothing. You can’t tell me what I can’t do without me immediately thinking about what I am able to do,” Haugh said. “There’s definitely times where I think about it, just how much playing means, but it never really crossed my mind to not be around the team. I have a lot of friends on the team, it being my senior year.”
By trading his soccer cleats for a coaching hat, Haugh is still an integral part of his favorite team. From the sidelines, he has the unique opportunity to instruct a group of players whose respect he has already earned as a hard-working and talented teammate.
“It’s easy for me to communicate. It’s easier to lay into somebody because we’re on the same level. I think it’s easy to look at a coach and say ‘you’re not out there, it’s not that easy.’ But I’ve been there and done it.” Haugh said. “I’ve enjoyed it because I’ve still been around the camaraderie.”
Johns Hopkins has the biggest program in the world focused on studying arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. The condition is inherited and usually does not show up in patients until around the age of 30, but it can be aggravated at a young age in elite athletes, like Haugh, who have been putting their heart under stress since a young age. His example highlights the importance of abnormal heartbeats or fainting as it’s not always as simple as being out of shape or dehydrated.
“The abnormality is in the proteins that hold one heart muscle cell to another. It’s like you have bad glue holding your heart cells together,” said Dr. Hugh Calkins, Director of the Johns Hopkins ARVD Program. “What happens when you exercise, is that the pressure in the right ventricle increases. This results in damage to the heart muscle cells that get replaced by fat and scar. The presence of this fat and scar make a patient with ARVD at increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest.”
This spring Haugh plans to represent the Cardinals on the golf course, where has found a safe way to keep himself as busy as ever while satisfying the competitive drive he cultivated in a childhood full of soccer tryouts.
“I try to play five or six hours a day. I picked up a club for a week as a kid but had never played. It’s very different, but there’s been de ja vu — you try something new, it doesn’t go right, and you have to figure out how to get better,” Haugh said. “When I found out what happened, my first thought was about playing soccer, specific moments and vivid memories that I knew I would be missing. My second immediate reaction was there’s no way they are barring me from doing everything, so I had to figure out something I could start doing.”
DeMatha rolled past McNamara and Carroll by a combined margin of 13-1. . . . Huntingtown beat Chopticon and blanked Leonardtown to remain unbeaten. . . . Walter Johnson bounced back from a 2-0 loss to Blair by topping Northwood, 8-1. . . . Gonzaga has won five in a row after victories over St. John’s, The Heghts and Good Counsel... Blair enters the rankings fresh of a win over then-No. 1 Walter Johnson and a victory against Richard Montgomery. . . . Centennial bounced back form a loss to Mount Hebron with a 2-1 win over Wilde Lake in double overtime.
1 DeMatha (5-2-1) Last week: 3
2 Huntingtown (12-0) LW: 4
3 Walter Johnson (10-1) LW: 1
4 Mount Hebron (8-2) LW: 5
5 River Hill (9-2) LW: 2
6 Gonzaga (8-3-2) LW: NR
7 Blair (11-1) LW: NR
8 Centennial (8-1) LW: 8
9 St. Albans (7-1-1) LW: 9
10 Meade (8-1) LW: NR
Records through Tuesday.