Cooper hits the ground running after recovery from illness that sidelined him for entire summer

Braden Osborn | Staff Writer

Senior Austin Cooper running after his return to practices.

The boys cross country team almost lost one of their own this summer. 

Senior varsity runner Austin Cooper came home from cross country practice not feeling well in late June with a fever. Little did he know that his high temperature was much more than just a common cold.

“On June 22nd, I came home from practice early with a fever.” Cooper said. “About a week went by and I still had a fever. We were hopeful that it was possibly just COVID or the flu or something like that.”

Despite the hope, on July 3rd Cooper was rushed to the hospital after he was found by his family unconscious on the floor of his home. Doctors would later tell Cooper that they discovered he had strep bacteria. Also known as Streptococcus, it is a common bacterium often carried in the intestines or lower genital tract, and Cooper said this caused issues in his blood flow.

“At first they didn’t know what it was but it ended up being strep bacteria that got in my bloodstream,” Cooper said. “Eventually it formed abscesses in my brain and lungs.”

Unfortunately, this meant that Cooper would have to take time off from cross country to recover. Cooper ended up being in and out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for weeks, and he said it was difficult to do much of anything at the time.

“I had to get a lung biopsy and a brain biopsy, so I had to take time to recover from those,” Cooper said. “Then I was on three or four antibiotics for a couple of weeks, which made it hard to run because of my lack of energy and nearly impossible to eat because my digestive system was very messed up.”

With all of this going on, it begged the question if Cooper would be able to run his senior year of high school or have to support his team from the sidelines. Eventually Cooper found out that he would be allowed to run with the team, but with restrictions.

“I was definitely not expecting to be able to run for a while,” Cooper said. “For not even getting out of bed for probably three straight weeks, I was not expecting a crazy return. It was a slow process once I did start and I couldn’t run much.”

With Cooper coming back to the team, it seemed like he had never left, as his coaches and teammates were there to support and help him every single step of the way. Cooper felt like this displayed the closeness of the team.

“The coaches and the team have both encouraged me. They understand what I’ve gone through and how my body is experiencing a lot of different things right now,” Cooper said.” They don’t want to push me too hard because there have been some days that have been rough. The team is amazing and has been there for support and I’m there to support them too.”

Mason Varsity head coach Tom Rapp was glad to see Cooper back, along with the rest of the coaching staff. Rapp was very worried if Cooper would ever make a return, and when he found out just how serious the situation was, it didn’t ease his concerns. Rapp said seeing Cooper finally running again was an incredible site to watch. 

“We were really concerned. We had seen him struggling in practice for a day or two before it all happened, but to hear that it was so serious that he was in the hospital was really upsetting,” Rapp said. “We were thrilled to see him back on the course and very proud of every step he took.”

Rapp also made the critical decision of allowing Cooper to return for a very competitive meet: The Mason Invitational. Given everything Cooper had been through, Rapp also had to keep in mind the restrictions that the doctors had given him. In the end, Rapp left the decision up to  Cooper.

“So far, the doctors say he is only restricted by his energy level. Unfortunately, that is not very high right now. My plan is to allow him to determine how much and how hard he runs each day,” Rapp said. “I asked Austin what he wanted to do. Knowing that it would not cause any further damage, I allowed him to do what he wanted to do. I thought it appropriate that he be with the guys he’s gone to battle with for four years.” 

The coaches were not the only ones who were thrilled to see Cooper return this past weekend. Rapp said Cooper’s teammates were ecstatic to have him back on the course alongside them once again.

“It gave [our team] a real boost to see Austin out there. The guys were excited and motivated by his presence,” Rapp said. “The guys give him lots of encouragement. With that said, they also treat him like one of the guys, which is what Austin wants.”

Rapp is hopeful that Cooper will make a full recovery, but he also knows how cautious Cooper has to be in regards to pushing himself. Rapp has prioritized Cooper’s health and said he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Cooper to regain form.

“I believe in miracles, but I also don’t want to put unrealistic expectations on Austin. We will keep taking it day by day,” Rapp said. “Even though physically he is not able to perform as well, he is still an inspiration by the efforts he does put out.”