Carroll junior Trevor Gilley was five minutes away from a life-changing moment. Lying in an area hospital emergency room bed, Gilley was scheduled for heart surgery. The future of the teenage standout distance runner was about to take an unimagined course.
As one of the most gifted milers in the state, Gilley’s world revolves around minutes and seconds. The 5-foot-10, 140-pound junior runs with his black digital watch constantly checking his time, his pace, his goals. His relentless commitment to running includes two workouts a day and logging 70 miles a week. But this was time Gilley couldn’t control or race to beat. Those five minutes in the ER were like minutes standing still.
In April of last year, the highly-conditioned Gilley collapsed outside the back door of his house after feeling dizzy and nauseous. He hit the pavement and badly bruised his face.
“I remember I didn’t feel very good and I just blacked out,” Trevor said. “We had no clue what was going on.”
Niki Gilley, Trevor’s mother and Carroll assistant cross country and track coach, rushed her son to the emergency room. The boy who started running when he was eight, was in jeopardy of possibly never running again.
The verdict was shocking. Multiple conclusions by doctors determined Gilley had a heart defect and needed surgery immediately to provide a pacemaker for his heart. Surgery was set. Doctors determined Gilley’s heart wasn’t beating fast enough causing the limited blood flow to his head – which resulted in light-headedness, nausea and eventual collapse.
For the Gilleys and Carroll cross country/track coach Justin Leonard, processing this stunning news was difficult. How could this be? He was 16 years old, had no previous heart problems and his body was finely conditioned. Before deciding on surgery, the Gilleys chose to take a deep breath and did more heart research and got a fourth opinion.
This became the revelation the Gilleys hoped to hear. The doctors discovered he had a vasovagal syncope, which causes episodes of fainting and light-headedness triggered by anxiety. The heralded runner being sought by Texas, Arkansas, Virginia and Notre Dame was now cleared to run again and taught measures to manage the condition.
“What they said was very common in high endurance runners,” Niki Gilley said. “The vagel nerve has high sensitivity and it can be triggered by sight of blood or running hard.”
The alternative would have produced a much different path for the promising runner.
“I don’t know if he would have ever been able to run again,” Leonard said. “He was going from being one of the best I’ve ever coached, to his career being over. Things were going that fast.”
The doctors taught Trevor Gilley how to combat the episodes with leg and arm exercises to increase his blood flow. He is able to feel when these are approaching and takes needed measures.
“I think I have gotten stronger because of it,” Trevor Gilley said. “Because now I have more control of it.”
Throughout this school year Gilley has been episode-free. He makes sure he is properly fueled (six or seven scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast) and he does a proper cool down after hard runs. He was part of the Class 5A state champion cross country team in the fall and returns to the 5A State Track and Field meet in Austin this Friday and Saturday.
As a sophomore, Gilley reached the state meet and finished fourth in the 1,600 meters in a close battle that left him .02 from earning a third-place medal. Gilley shined in April’s District 7-5A meet winning the 1,600 meters with a time of 4:12 (second best in the state), marking the seventh-best time in the nation this year. His goal by the end of his senior year is to break the state record of 4:03.27 in the 1,600 meters. The record time is written in different places all around the Gilley house as the ultimate goal reminder.
When Gilley did return to running, it came with caution. Would an episode happen again? And when?
“I was running, but scared to push it,” Trevor said. “I didn’t know how I was going to run, and if I would run the way I did.”
Those questions were answered quickly. Gilley is back among the elite this year and chasing that record time. Pushing and pushing more is what makes him special. Especially against time he can control.
“You have kids that run to their potential, and then you have kids once in a while that run beyond their potential,” Leonard said. “He will find another gear that other kids can’t find. I wish I could bottle that up and give it to other kids. But it’s something you are born with.”