Athletes, parents and other fans from all over the state are converging at Wells Fargo Arena this week for the state wrestling tournament.
Hopefully, everything goes smoothly and winners are crowned without some of the anxious moments we experienced four years ago this week involving a key member of Creston/O-M’s state runner-up team.
Taylor Pettit had qualified individually for state for the second time n 2015, after going 1-2 at Wells Fargo Arena as a junior the previous season. As a senior, his goal was to get on the podium as one of the eight medal winners.
As it turned out, Creston/O-M tied Union of LaPorte City for second place with 86 points, just three points behind champion Mediapolis. And, the Panthers accomplished that without a single point from Pettit, one of the nine Panthers qualifying for state that year.
Pettit nearly died on the floor of Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday of that week during the State Dual Tournament. Pettit wrestled his match, then two matches followed before the end of that dual. Chris Leonard, Greater Regional Medical Center athletic trainer, noticed something wasn’t quite right with Pettit after his match.
“I remember he was having trouble catching his breath after his match,” Leonard said. “He didn’t say anything to me. But I noticed he made some facial expressions that I could tell something was hurting. Tayler wasn’t ever one to complain or show pain. I went over to get him relaxed and evaluated him.”
Leonard was concerned enough to ask the supervising physician there, Dr. Dennis Zachary, to take a look at Tayler while Leonard also notified the supervising athletic trainer that EMTs might be needed.
That quick thinking certainly came in handy as Pettit fell to his knees as the teams walked through the hand-shaking line after the dual. Soon he was laid out on his back and going into a seizure.
I was no more than 6 feet away, trying to monitor what was going on as coach Darrell Frain frantically shouted at Tayler to “stay with us!” as EMTs administered AED shocks and CPR. The life-saving efforts continued as he was carted out of the building to a waiting ambulance that would speed to nearby Mercy Medical Center.
I walked to my car and called the office alerting them that I may have a tragic story to send. I wanted to give everyone some time before trying to get information from the hospital.
Leonard was on the trip to the hospital assisting with CPR.
“When we had been at the hospital for awhile, they were finally able to get him stable,” Leonard said. “They wanted to let his body relax and do some testing before having him go into surgery the next day.”
So, on the day the Panthers had to mentally regroup and get back on the mat to compete in the traditional state tournament, Pettit was in surgery to correct a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. It is one of the most common causes of rapid heart rate disorders, yet Tayler had not had many symptoms before that day.
However, in thinking back, he realizes that some of the racing heart symptoms he had felt before had been chalked up to nerves. But, actually it was a precursor to the near-tragic episode at state duals.
With all of those emergency medical technicians and athletic trainers on site, it was the next best place to have a health scare short of being in an actual hospital.
The malady was corrected surgically and Pettit did not have to have a pacemaker inserted, as is sometimes the case with that disorder. He went on to play soccer that spring.
As the team wrapped up its run for a title that Saturday night, just falling short, Frain put things in perspective.
“We got a trophy, we got a state champion (Chase Shiltz) and Tayler is coming home,” Frain said after the tourney’s conclusion. “That’s a pretty good ending to our week.”
Like his coach, I wondered if I would ever see Tayler Pettit again when I walked out of that arena that Wednesday afternoon.
As it turned out, one day after his release from the hospital that Sunday, Pettit attended Creston’s boys basketball district opener in Atlantic. We were all excited, and a little shocked, to see him walk in.
This week, we reflected on those days.
“Nobody prepares you for something like that,” Pettit said. “All I remember from that day is the morning, when we went over to the arena to warm up and they wouldn’t let us on the mats. We had to warm up on the carpet in the hallway. I don’t remember any of the matches or anything. But, I know I got pretty lucky. Having trainers from Greater Regional like Chris is a huge asset.”
Creston/O-M went on to win its second state championship in 2016 with 91.5 points. It’s a little bittersweet for Pettit to think about how he might have contributed enough to get to that championship level in his senior year, but he’s learned a lot about keeping a good perspective on things.
“It’s kind of hard to go through that and not be changed in some way,” Pettit said. “It helped me get through some of the tough times in college, I guess. Feeling like I’m living on borrowed time, I want to do the best and most with the time I have.”
Pettit is now a senior at Iowa State University, majoring in finance and on schedule to graduate in May. He is a 4.0 student earning awards for being in the top 2 percent of his junior class last year and senior class this year. He was honored in 2016 as a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS).
He is also working at Principal in Des Moines as a commercial mortgage backed securities purchasing intern.
“I’m planning on pursuing my PhD and go into the academic side,” he said. “I’d like to be a university professor and do research.”
Pettit and his longtime girlfriend, Natalie Mostek of Creston, are both pursuing master’s programs and have some options on joining programs at the same location. Mostek, who is the starting catcher for the University of Nebraska (Omaha) softball team, is studying pharmacy.
It’s a story with a happy ending. Pettit has never experienced any problems associated with that scary moment in Des Moines four years ago. He stays in touch with EMT Brad Vancil of Mercy Medical Center and Leonard. They formed a bond on that February day in 2015.
“I’m grateful to everyone for keeping me alive,” Pettit said.
Contact the writer: