After being offered a spot on the Pacific Lutheran University men’s soccer team for next fall, Sam Hryciuk decided to celebrate by going for a run.
A senior midfielder on the Glacier Peak High School soccer team, Hryciuk headed for the school track.
His run didn’t last long.
“I was running around the track and there was a lacrosse team here. I just collapsed and started seizing on the ground,” Hryciuk said. “I don’t remember any of this — this is what’s been told to me. Two of the coaches came over and made me comfortable and then the (emergency medical technicians) came in a couple minutes and shocked me back (to life). I don’t know how many times I was shocked, but I died and came back.”
Hryciuk, 18, had suffered cardiac arrest.
At home that February evening, Hryciuk’s parents, John and Janice Hryciuk, got the kind of call every parent dreads. They rushed to the high school in time to see the EMTs working on Sam, who had a history of heart problems and rapid heartbeats.
“One of (the EMTs) was pumping on his chest and to be honest, we just got on our knees and started praying,” John Hryciuk said. “In that situation, when you knew he was gone and they were trying to revive him, (it) was incredible grief, followed by relief and more concern in the hospital.”
First-year Glacier Peak head coach Kyle Veach, a pastor at Clearview Foursquare Church, had met Hryciuk through some ministry events Hryciuk attended. He found out about Hryciuk’s cardiac arrest on Twitter.
“In my eyes, Sam was done as a Glacier Peak soccer player,” Veach said. “… I was absolutely shocked. But at that point, soccer’s the least most important thing in the world. It’s about his life.
“Essentially, he died on the field.”
Once at the hospital, doctors installed a defibrillator in Hryciuk’s chest. Instead of the typical intravenous setup — where the defibrillator is wired directly into the heart — Hryciuk has a newer version that is attached between his ribs and skin.
Hryciuk is one of the youngest people in America with the new, less-intrusive defibrillator, which was developed in Europe.
With his defibrillator in place, Hryciuk wanted to get back on the soccer field as soon as he awoke from his coma.
“The first thing they told me is that I’d never play again, and that was right after my coma,” Hryciuk said. “Then it progressively got shorter. They thought, ‘OK, maybe six months.’ Then maybe six weeks and it ended up being only two (weeks) until I started running again. Then another two weeks after that I played in my first game.”
His quick returned shocked many, including his Glacier Peak teammates, who were a bit scared to go full speed with Hryciuk so soon after his cardiac arrest.
“I thought he was kind of fragile at first,” Grizzlies’ senior Matt Johnston said. “When I saw his defibrillator I was like, ‘Wow. I don’t want to be the cause of anything bad happening.’ But he let us know that he’s going to go hard on us and he expects the same.”
Veach was among those most surprised by Hryciuk’s quick return.
“Sam was like, ‘I can play!’ And we said, ‘Yeah right. Not a chance,’” Veach said. “But his doctor said he could play. Soccer was put on the back burner in everyone’s mind except for Sam’s. But he’s just kind of defied all odds.”
Veach said that the doctors haven’t put limitations on how much Hryciuk can handle. Instead, it’s been up to the senior to tell his coach when he thinks he needs a break.
“It’s not a minute count,” Veach said. “He knows his body and when his heart’s going too fast.”
Hryciuk has had the defibrillator go off once, startling Hryciuk and his Glacier Peak teammates.
“It did shock me once,” Hryciuk said. “The first day I came back to practice fully I did a full-field sprint during a scrimmage, and I turned around and I felt like I got hit in the back of the head by a ball. I had no idea what was going on. (A shock) just ran through my whole body and it was like I got hit in the chest by a sledgehammer, and just like that it was all gone. I fell over holding my chest. I was just sitting there breathing hard, and then I was fine.”
John Hryciuk, who is the public-address announcer for Glacier Peak’s home soccer games, said that doctors still aren’t sure what happened. All are in agreement that Sam has been cleared to play, although John said he still worries a bit while watching Sam on the field.
“As parents, we certainly are concerned,” John Hryciuk said. “We don’t want to see that happen again. But there is a measure of confidence there and peace of mind that he has this device.”
Upon his return, Hryciuk made an immediate impact. In just his second game back, Hryciuk scored the game-winning goal in double overtime on April 1 to give the Grizzlies a 2-1 victory over Meadowdale.
“A corner (kick) came in and I shouldered it in — with the shoulder that’s the same side (as the defibrillator) — and scored the game-winner. The whole team just swamped me,” Hryciuk said. “And I was running towards the crowd with my hands (in the shape of a heart) on my chest. It was awesome.”
Hryciuk said it took a while for him to get back to full strength. He takes medicines that make him tired, so it takes a lot more energy to play a soccer game than before. Just this past week Hryciuk said he finally felt how he used to on the soccer field.
“I hadn’t really felt 100 percent until our last game on Tuesday night against Shorecrest,” Hryciuk said. “I played the whole game and felt back to normal.”
Having Hryciuk is a huge boost to a Glacier Peak (10-2-2 overall) team that is 8-1-2 and tied for first in an incredibly competitive Wesco 3A South league that features four teams with seven or more league wins.
Veach said the versatile Hryciuk is a huge asset because of all he brings to the Grizzlies.
“He’s a leader. Leader, leader, leader. As much as you can get,” Veach said. “Kids follow him instantly. He’s the vocal one. He might not wear the captain’s band, but he’s one of the captains of this team.”
Said Johnston: “He’s a big asset to our team, I’m really thankful that he could still play soccer. I know he loves it and we love having him on the team.”
Hryciuk has decided not to pursue soccer in college, declining a spot on the PLU team, opting instead to attend the University of Washington.
But before he becomes a Husky, Hryciuk wants to help the Grizzlies finish the season in a memorable fashion.
“Obviously, the goal would be to win state,” Hryciuk said. “That’s what we’ve all been looking at. It’s a lofty goal for sure. But that’s the ultimate prize.
“For me, I’m just so thankful to be with these guys. I’m just happy to be a part of this team.”