Jake Leicht is wrapping up the best year of wrestling he has ever had. The Bloomington Kennedy senior will ascend the podium after finishing sixth in the Class 3A 170-pound bracket Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. He has topped 40 victories in a season for the first time. His future is set; he will wrestle at Briar Cliff University in Iowa next year.
A little more than a year ago, it looked like none of this would happen.
Leicht was in a tournament in La Crosse, Wis., in December 2016. In the middle of his match, his third of the day, things went dark.
“They actually stopped the match because the guy on top was bleeding,” Kennedy coach Chuck Vavrosky said. “But Jake didn’t move. By the time I got down there, they had rolled him over and were doing CPR.”
Leicht had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped.
“It was frightening,” Vavrosky said. “Watching a kid out on the mat, as limp as can be with no pulse, was very scary.”
Then, as quickly as he had blacked out, Leicht woke up.
“He sat up and said, ‘Can I finish the match?’ ” Vavrosky recalled.
Said Leicht: “I have perfect memory from right before it happened to when I came out of it. I knew where I was. I just didn’t know exactly why everybody was around me.”
After meeting with a specialist from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Leicht was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal disorder called catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), in which the heart rate increases in response to physical activity or stress, triggering an abnormally fast and irregular heartbeat.
Leicht was put on medication, which he takes twice a day, and had surgery to remove a nerve that ran from his brain to his heart to help control his heart rhythm. He carries a portable defibrillator, nicknamed Jimmy, where ever he goes.
There are some side effects, most notably that Leicht doesn’t sweat on the left side of his face or his left arm.
“One side looks like he’s been sitting at a desk, the other side is red and sweating,” Vavrosky said.
Typically, when an athlete is diagnosed with CPVT, competition is ruled out. But wrestling has been Leicht’s passion since he started in third grade. He wasn’t ready to quit.
“After working with the doctor — he’s the one who wrote the guidelines — he allowed me to come back,” Leicht said. “There were times when I thought, ‘Is my career over? Will I be what I was?’ But after a few weeks, I realized I can do this. I started to build my confidence back. I just kept that mind-set.”
There’s a possibility, albeit not very big, that he could black out again and the results could be worse. But, to continue wrestling, Leicht is willing to take that risk.
“I love wrestling and all the great things that come with it,” Leicht said. “I’m going to look back and say I gave it everything I’ve got.”