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Prep cross country: Running relieves pain for Seccurro

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the pain of running comes healing for Hurricane's Drake Seccurro.

Seccurro, diagnosed with Crohn's disease more than 18 months ago, finds relief from his illness and in his mind in one of the most grueling sports.

Seccurro, a Redskins senior, will compete in his final high school cross country race at the State Meet on Saturday at Cabell Midland High School in Ona.

For Seccurro, the race marks a personal accomplishment, battling back from an autoimmune disease that left him gravely ill.

Along the path to recovery, Seccurro's been prescribed steroids, intravenous infusions and other medicines, but running has been his No. 1 treatment.

"He will be on medication the rest of his life, but we're just so thankful there's a medication for him," Drake's mother Eva Seccurro said. "We're just praying he'll continue to live a healthy life, and again the biggest thing with cross country, we truly, in the family, believe the running is just as much a drug or treatment fighting the Crohn's as the Remicade or any other prescribed medication is."

Long road to diagnosis

Drake's first began to feel ill during his sophomore cross country season in 2010.

"Throughout that season I worked to the best of my potential, but I wasn't really getting the results I wanted to and I wasn't feeling all that great," Drake said. "That's when I really started seeing signs that something was wrong."

Drake's symptoms worsened as winter came. Drake tried various diet plans as doctors believed his health problems were the result of an allergy, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or perhaps even celiac disease.

Each possibility proved to be incorrect.

One evening after a run, Drake said he passed out. That's when his parents knew something was really wrong. During spring break of his sophomore year, Drake underwent a colonoscopy.

The results indicated signs of Crohn's disease. Crohn's inflames the lining of a person's digestive system. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include cramping, fever and weight loss.

Without many resources to treat Drake locally, Eva and Drake's father Bruce Seccurro opted to take Drake to Cincinnati Children's Hospital as his condition deteriorated.

"At that point, the Crohn's was causing damage to his entire digestive system and then in the meantime, his liver started to fail, and that's what really got us into a sticky situation," Eva said.

Drake worked with two teams of doctors, a gastroenterologist (GI) team and a hepatology team to push toward recovery, Eva said.

When he entered the hospital, Drake said he was 5-foot-5 and weighed about 93 pounds. After two months taking the steroid prednisone, Drake weighed about 140 pounds.

In addition to the weight gain, other side-effects of the prednisone included bone softening, Drake said. Doctors told Drake they were unsure how his body would respond to running.

"They didn't know if I would ever run to a better ability than before (I was diagnosed) with this disease," Drake said.

But Drake did eventually begin to run again. When he resumed, Drake helped as part of research projects answering surveys on his running and keeping track of his achievements.

"They really were looking at my time and my pace and how much I was running and distance, because they didn't know how much I would progress," Drake said.

While battling Crohn's disease, Drake said he sensed from others that they didn't know how to approach him or ask him about his situation. Running provided an outlet for Drake to get past the pain and maybe even avoid the awkward interactions with others. His cross country team and running were a haven.

"I always had my team there for me and running with them," he said. "It kind of just took away and cleared my mind of the things that were going on at that time."

Finally, with the help of medicine and running, Drake said he overcame the side effects of his steroids and treatments at the end of his junior year. Every six to eight weeks, Drake still undergoes an IV treatment, but they now help maintain his health, not restore it.

"I'm just now feeling like I'm back, that I'm basically 100 percent," Drake said.

Making Hurricane history

Now, that it appears Drake has endured through the most difficult times, he, as well as others, can enjoy his achievements knowing where he's been.

"It was one of those situations, as a coach, where I was like 'I don't know if this kid will ever make it back,'" Henley said of Drake's initial predicament.

Saturday, Drake and Hurricane will become the first Redskins boys cross country team to race at the state meet.

"A lot of the success we've had as a team, which has been unprecedented in the Hurricane area anyway, has been because Drake wanted it to happen and he took the leadership role upon himself," Henley said. "He's a model of believing anything can happen if you work hard and you dedicate yourself and focus."

It's a quiet leadership Drake displayed as he fought the disease that waged war upon his body.

"He doesn't bring it up at practice," Henley said. "Sometimes he jokes about it, 'Hey Coach, can I take this one off? I have Crohn's.' That kind of thing. But it's never an issue. It's not one of those things that come up at practice. Our success as a team this year has been very team-based, and he'll be the first one to tell you that."

Happiness on the horizon

Happy times lie ahead for Drake.

With that in mind, no one will be quick to forget what Drake endured to reach the state meet.

"He's my hero," Eva said of Drake's journey. "No matter what the outcome is Saturday, it still couldn't be any better, for me, as his mother. It's probably going to be the proudest moment of my life."

For Bruce, likewise, it will be a special memory.

"Seeing (Drake) in that bed, not knowing if he would ever run again, the doctors, especially the doctors at Cincinnati Children's, were really, really, really encouraging him to try to get back to normal as soon as possible," he said, "and he used running to motivate himself, to will himself back to health. It was really miraculous to see where he was a year and a half ago and to see where he is now."

As for Drake, the reality of reaching the mountaintop hasn't overcome him yet.

"I think maybe race day that'll hit me and, hopefully, give me drive for the race, because it's taken a lot to get here and I'm just hoping to run to the best of my ability that day," he said.

Long after Saturday's race, the IV infusions will persist and Drake will continue to live with Crohn's disease.

All the while, Drake will move forward with both Crohn's and running - his favorite and most effective treatment.

"Whether I run in college or not, I think I will definitely be a runner for the rest of my life," he said.

"Not only do I have something to work for racing wise, but I feel like it keeps me in check mentally and physically, so it's just something I'm passionate about and I think I'll keep in my life for a very long time."


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