Roosevelt High School senior Jeremy Beck runs with a 7-inch scar down the middle of his chest and an undying dream to earn a college scholarship with his speed. Maybe that will come from Yale. Or Texas Tech. Or Oregon State. Beck doesn’t know. Seven months after open-heart surgery and just three months before graduation, the 18-year-old from Corona only knows to keep on running. So he trains with his teammates on the Eastvale school’s varsity track and field team. He never really stopped. His world revolves around running. And not so long ago, that world came crashing down, as hard as he fell that first time at Promenade Park in Corona. In third place with half a mile to go in the Nov. 7, 2013, Big VIII League cross country finals, the 16-year-old felt like his legs were barely moving. He pushed on through the dizziness and little white spots sliding in front of his eyes. Then Beck rounded a turn and everything went black. “I remember just falling. That was it,” he said. Paramedics were holding his head off the ground when he came to, sprawled on the grass, after five minutes. A doctor thought Beck was probably dehydrated.
Nine days later, he ran for two out of three miles feeling just as bad. He collapsed two feet past the finish line at the CIF Southern Section cross-country preliminary race at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Both times, he passed out with symptoms that precede sudden cardiac arrest. Shortly after, a cardiologist discovered Beck had been born with a bicuspid aortic valve, or two flaps over the valve instead of three.
“Up until that time, I had never heard of this. For me, that was pretty alarming,” said his mother, Roosevelt’s Assistant Cross Country and Track CoachLorena Beck.
He was the third-ranked sophomore in the state during the spring 2013 track season. Yale and the other universities had sent letters saying they were watching. Beck was bummed out that he had to stop competing in the sport he loved and could only watch teammates race as his symptoms got worse and he grew tired and weaker.
A specialist later determined blood was leaking back into his heart chamber through the faulty valve, which wasn’t closing securely, and performed open-heart surgery last summer. Beck’s aortic valve was replaced with a valve from a cow’s heart and his aorta with a synthetic graft. On a recent afternoon, Beck did warmups and drills at Roosevelt’s red polyurethane track, then took off in his Saucony Kinvara running shoes on a four-mile practice run through Eastvale with teammates. He was one of the last runners to the half-way point, where his mother waited for them with water and Gatorade in her car’s trunk.
Sweat slicking his forehead and neck, he downed Gatorade, checked his laces, blew snot from his nose and took off running again without his shirt. At last weekend’s Laguna Beach Distance Carnival, Beck raced for the first time in more than a year. He felt nervous before starting the 800-meter or half-mile race because he knew people would be watching.
He was in ninth place by the last 200 meters. Super-tired yet his heart felt strong. He knew he could move faster. So Beck began to fly, passing people like crazy while looking at the runners he still had to catch..
He crossed the finish line in second place at 2:12, elated and shocked, and kept on running – straight to his waiting teammates. He jumped up and down with two other seniors, all knowing he’s that much closer to qualifying for the Mt. SAC Relays and the Arcadia Invitational, where college scouts and coaches will be watching in April. Beck will attempt his first mile at the Roosevelt Invitational and Distance Carnival in late March. He’ll run with all he’s got to shave his fastest practice time – a mile in about 5:20 to 5:30 – down to the required 4:20.
He doesn’t really think about whether that could endanger his heart. He just runs.
“We don’t care if he’s running a four-minute mile. But to him, that’s everything,” his mother said. “I tell him, ‘Every day your heart is beating – you’re winning.’ ”