Austin Hecker says of himself, “I’m the kind of athlete that doesn’t really stop.” True enough, considering the health problem he has overcome to compete with the Stony Brook Wrestling Club.
Hecker, a 125-pound freshman, was one of seven members of the 30-person team to compete in the National Collegiate Wrestling Championship in Allen, Texas last month. Though he lost his first and only round, just being there was a triumph.
Hecker tore his ACL during his senior year at Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick, NY, a potentially devastating injury for most athletes. The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the three major ligaments in the knee and is essential for proper knee function.
Recovery can take up to a year or more, but almost a year to the day of Hecker’s surgery, he placed fourth in the NCWA Northeast Regional Championships at the University of New Hampshire, qualifying for nationals.
The injury prevented him from competing in qualifiers during his senior year in high school. “I never went to a tournament where I had to qualify,” Hecker said. “So this was sort of my redemption.”
Hecker was a varsity member of his wrestling team for all four years of high school, as well as a runner on the cross-country and track teams. However, he has been dealing with another problem, asthma, since his sophomore year. As an athlete in some of the most lung-intensive high school sports, the problem only intensified.
Now Hecker visits a pulmonologist for shots every two weeks. He takes two nose sprays, two pills and carries two inhalers with him. But he is still competing. In fact, living with asthma is one of the reasons why Hecker came to Stony Brook as a respiratory care major.
Hecker aspires to become a respiratory therapist when he graduates, working with patients who have lung disorders. “I’d like to help somebody where I have the same issue,” he said.
He chose Stony Brook because it is one of the few schools he found with a respiratory care program, backed by the reputation of Stony Brook Medicine. The wrestling team, started just last year, was the final selling point.
Though he recently joined the Residence Hall Association as a representative from Eisenhower College, most of Hecker’s schedule is devoted to wrestling and academics.
“Honestly, I just want to keep wrestling,” he said. And keep wrestling he will.