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Chartrand Shows Heart with Comeback to Soccer

last modified 2012-11-01 12:10 PM

NEW ULM, Minn. – The MLC men’s soccer team struggled through a difficult season in 2012, but senior co-captain Ross Chartrand was just thrilled to be a part of it. A health scare two years earlier, one that endangered his heart, had put his career in doubt.

Chartrand Shows Heart with Comeback to Soccer

Ross Chartrand after the MLC men's soccer team's final game of the 2012 season

Chartrand, a 2010 First Team All-UMAC selection as a defender, was born with a birth defect called pectus excavatum, causing his sternum to grow abnormally and curl back in on itself. During a check-up several years ago, a CAT scan showed that his sternum was resting on the right half of his heart.

After consulting with his parents and doctors, Chartrand underwent an operation known as the Nuss procedure to fix the problem. This meant that three steel bars were implanted in his chest to support it in a way that Chartrand describes as “dental braces for my chest.” The bars remain for several years until the chest can fully heal from the procedure.

Because of the surgery, Chartrand had a lot of work to do if he ever wanted to play sports again.

“This surgery is pretty major,” Chartrand said. “They’re reshaping your skeleton, so rehab is a huge amount of work. I lost over 20 pounds during my recovery that had to be gained back before even thinking about playing any sports.”

Before getting back to training his body, Chartrand first had to work on breathing exercises to get his lung capacity back to normal. Once that occurred, he worked out by doing yoga, swimming, running, and weight training in an effort to get his body back to where it was. Further complicating matters, one of the three steel bars inserted to support his chest shifted out of place, causing it to be removed and leaving him with only two.

Chartrand was not able to recuperate quickly enough to play the 2011 soccer season. He attended practices and games, but any contact was considered too dangerous.

“I’ve been playing soccer for most of my life,” Chartrand said, “so sitting out any year would have been tough. But coming off an exciting sophomore season and being recognized by the other coaches as a valuable player made it incredibly hard.”

Chartrand worked to get ready to play his senior season, but had a number of hurdles to clear. He needed clearance from his doctors and family, first, and also from his coach, Paul Koelpin, who wanted to make sure it was safe.

“I remember telling Ross, ‘You’re studying to be a pastor. I’d rather have you serving in the ministry than have something happen to you because of a game,’” Koelpin said. “But Ross wanted to play. He had clearance from doctors, from UMAC officials and NCAA people to wear a hex-pad shirt under his jersey. I felt we had covered all the bases.”

Chartrand started the season somewhat tentatively, worried about taking contact and jarring one of the steel bars loose.

“I wasn’t sure how my upper boy would hold up to the physicality of UMAC games,” Chartrand said. “It made me hesitate a little too much until I took a few shots and realized I wasn’t made of glass. After that, I felt back to normal.”

While the team struggled to a 3-15 record in a tough-luck season, his coach was very happy with the decisions he had made in letting his senior captain play.

“When he walked on the field, you could tell that it lifted everyone’s spirits,” Koelpin said. “His leadership by example was a big part of the attitude that the team this year had. We struggled to find wins, but the players never stopped working hard. That was a testament to his character and the leadership of the veterans who knew that we could compete with anyone in the conference.”

Chartrand echoed those sentiments, and was just happy to have one last chance to compete.

“Being back in the game has been fantastic. The guys on the team have been great – energetic, hard-working, and focused the whole season. While the win-loss record could have been better, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve gone toe-to-toe with every team this season and fought until the end.”

Chartrand finished his college career with 53 starts and 54 games played in three seasons, and also made a memory in the last game of his senior season as he scored the first and only goal of his college career in a 7-0 win over Northland on October 27.

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