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The Journal Gazette

  • Photo courtesy of Trine Athletics After undergoing brain surgery in December, Trine thrower Kara Eck finished fourth in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018 1:00 am

Athlete beats out brain infection

Became Trine's first 5-time All-American

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

Trine thrower Kara Eck is a self-proclaimed busybody.

Her career with the Thunder consisted of being a student-athlete and a mom to her daughter, now 4, while pursing her degree in elementary education and special education.

This season, though, her mental fortitude was tested.

Eck, 23, a DeKalb graduate, broke her own school record at the Oiler Open on Dec. 8 with a weight throw of 60 feet, 61/2 inches. That was the best throw in the NCAA Division III until the final week of the indoor season in March, despite throwing while ill.

“I was feeling sick, I was feeling a lot of pressure in my head. I took some sinus medicine and had the best track meet of my life.

“The next couple days, I got worse and I couldn't get relief from medicine. I went to the walk-in clinic at DeKalb Hospital and I got an antibiotic for an infection. If I didn't get relief, I would go back.”

Eck went to her family doctor three days later and received antibiotic shots to get the medicine in her blood stream faster and a stronger antibiotic that she took for four days but even that didn't give her any relief.

She received a CT scan at the DeKalb Hospital, which came back so abnormal, she was transported by EMS to Lutheran Hospital, where she had a craniotomy to remove the infection that had spread to her brain.

“I stayed in the hospital five days, and I had to do all the IV meds for six weeks,” she said. “It was a slow recovery to get up, to walk, to go upstairs; doctors saying 'I want you to walk this far.' It was very much a gradual 'what you could do.' I knew what I could do, but I had to do a happy medium but keep pushing. I amazed the doctors and myself with how fast I recovered.”

The quickness of her recovery was still the hardest part of the entire process.

“I struggled more when I wasn't able to do things,” she said. “I'm used to going 110 miles an hour and then I went to zero. It wasn't that I had surgery but that I couldn't do anything.”

In her first meet back, Eck won the weight throw and shot put at the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association indoor championship in February.

But she opted out of the NCAA Division III Indoor Championship to focus on getting stronger for the outdoor season.

“The indoor implement (weight throw) is 20 pounds,” Eck said. “It took a lot out of me to throw it. We transitioned into training for outdoor season. I think cutting my indoor season short only helped me. Outdoor, I was able to qualify for nationals and I got an All-American and made top five (fourth in hammer throw with 185-8).”

Eck, a finalist for the Honda Inspiration Award, became the first Trine athlete to earn All-American honors five times.

Her track career began with a unit in eighth-grade physical education and continued through high school to Grand Valley State for her freshman year before returning home.

She returned to school and the throwing circle with support from her parents and Thunder throws coach Amanda Cope.

“It was hard juggling motherhood, new school and throwing. I was able to have a very successful track career at Trine,” Eck said. “I would say going back to school and getting a degree was more important than doing track. I think my dad and my mom and my coaches were pushing me to do track because with track, I felt like everything got better. I had to push myself and I came home and had to be a mom.

“Without track, I think I would have coasted through school. It was a good push myself to do my best for me and my daughter.”

Her daughter starts preschool this year as Eck begins her career at Waterloo Elementary teaching fourth- and fifth-grade special education.

Her involvement with the Thunder will continue, assisting Cope with the throws program, a position she will eventually take over.

areichel@jg.net