Diagnosed at 14, Taking Chances Forever
Last April, I was given the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica to surf. I immediately accepted, and began making travel arrangements. But while Costa Rica is considered a popular traveler’s destination and has some of the best tourism infrastructure of all the Central American nations, many parts of the country are still quite remote, and the part of the country I would visit, the Nicoya Peninsula, is possibly the most remote.
My destination, the beautiful surf town of Playa Guiones, boasts 330+ surfable days a year, and has some of the most consistent swells in Costa Rica. In short, it’s a surfer’s paradise. But for me, it could also have become a personal hell.
I want to to do what I can now, while I’m here today, and take the risks that I won’t be able to take someday down the road.
At fourteen, I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition known as Long QT Syndrome, when the QT interval of a heartbeat is lengthened and extremely irregular. My condition causes me to be susceptible to heart palpitations, fainting, and sudden cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, I am asymptomatic, so I won’t have warning before an episode comes on. In addition, my condition is exacerbated through elevated heart intervals, which may be brought on by stress, substance use (such as caffeine), and exercise.
A serious heart condition and participation in the high risk sport of surfing, combined with the fact that I was in one of the most remote areas in Costa Rica and the nearest hospital was more than an hour away via bumpy jungle roads? I knew that if I were to suffer an episode, I wouldn’t make it out of Playa Guiones.
But I’ve never been one to back down. I’ve always decided that, as the old adage goes, I’d rather “die standing than live on my knees.” For what’s life if you don’t live it to the very fullest? I don’t want to look back after a long and boring life and wish for all the things I could have done; I want to to do what I can now, while I’m here today, and take the risks that I won’t be able to take someday down the road.
Why? Because I can, and because it makes me stronger.
I’ve had my fair share of demons, one of them being the looming threat of a Long QT episode. If I drink a cup of coffee, could this cause my risk to go up? Can I go for a run this morning, or will I not make it home for breakfast? Should I pull an all-nighter to study for an exam or will it literally stop my heart from beating? These are very real questions I’ve had to ask myself, and I continue to ask myself, day after day.
I know that ever present danger of having an episode is always there, but that I’m strong enough to keep it from limiting what I want to do with my life.
And I want to stop being afraid. So I decided to take that chance. Every day, when I took my board out with my instructor and surfed, I felt stronger and more courageous.
With every little accomplishment: learning how to stand up, moving from “whitewater” to “green waves,” paddling into big sets, and learning how to carve, I felt myself shaking off this fear. Not in a foolish way; I know that ever present danger of having an episode is always there, but that I’m strong enough to keep it from limiting what I want to do with my life.
I won’t let my personal demons take over my choices. My trip to Costa Rica helped me get over that mental barrier that separated overt caution from freedom: the freedom to grab my life and embrace it with both hands. I want to live my life to the fullest. Through travel, and through surfing, I’m doing that every day.