Army's Starks Battles Back From Heart Condition

The following article, written by Sal Interdonato, on senior Richard Starks appeared in the Times Herald-Record on March 17, 2010, and previews the upcoming NCAA Championships.

WEST POINT, N.Y. - Richard Starks will take the mat Thursday at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., with no regrets.

Reality has set in. Starks' wrestling career is coming to a close.

Starks, an Army senior, said he is peaking for the NCAA Division I championships mentally and physically, a complete turnaround from five months ago at the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Classic. Starks struggled to breathe in his opening match. His vision was blurred and his arms stopped working, he said.

Not good when his 197-pound opponent was trying to pin his back to the mat.

Starks survived and won 11-9. But the same symptoms started up in his next match.

"For 30 seconds, I thought I was going to fall down and pass out," Starks said.

Starks won again, 6-3. But Army coach Chuck Barbee decided to pull Starks from the tournament in Brockport.

Starks said he was a little dehydrated from cutting weight. Barbee thought his wrestler might have suffered a concussion.

They were both wrong. Soon after, tests revealed a more pressing matter — a heart condition.

Starks was diagnosed with an atrial flutter, an abnormal rhythm that occurs in the upper portion of the heart.

Was Starks going to have a second straight season end prematurely? Starks missed the Division I championships last year after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee during the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships.

"My heartbeat was messed up," Starks said.

Starks underwent surgery to correct the rhythm in mid-November. He was cleared to return six weeks later for a dual meet against Hofstra on Jan. 8.

Starks won 19 of his next 21 matches, earning a trip to Omaha.

"I've had a couple of setbacks," Starks said. "But I'm all set for the nationals. I'm just trying to stay cool. I know it's the last time I'm going to be on the mat, so all I have to do is wrestle hard and enjoy it."

Starks, who is 104-22 in his career at Army, is going all out preparing for his swan song. His heart issues are in the past, he said.

"It was really just a freak accident," Starks said. "There's probably no way it will happen again."

What: NCAA Division I championships

When: Thursday-Saturday

Where: Qwest Center, Omaha, Neb.

Other locals competing

Matt Kyler, Army senior 149-pounder

Season record: 30-3

Career record: 144-30

The skinny: Kyler, the sixth seed, is Army's all-time wins leader. He's the second four-time NCAA qualifier at the academy since 2005. Kyler, a two-time EIWA champion, placed sixth in the nation at 141 pounds and earned all-American honors.

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