Dordt College News

Dordt Runner Overcomes Collapsed Lung

April 2, 2014

By Sam Ekstrom; Dordt College Sports Information Student Assistant

Any runner will tell you that a hard race leaves you out of breath.

For senior track and cross country runner Aaron Spronk, that phrase has an entirely different meaning.

Entering his junior year at Southwest Christian High School (Minn.), Aaron Spronk decided to switch his focus from soccer to cross country.

“I liked the sport so much more because it was so positive,” said Spronk. “In cross country, you can only improve your teammates rather than degrade them.”

But an incident early in his junior season nearly derailed his plan to become a runner.

During an early-season race, Spronk felt more out of breath than usual when he crossed the finish line and experienced an ache on the right side of his back. At the time, the first-year runner equated the pain to a muscle cramp.

As it turns out, the injury was much more severe. Spronk’s right lung was slowly leaking air – much like a flat tire.

“It actually hurt to breathe,” Spronk said.

Throughout the rest of the night, Spronk experienced even more discomfort.

Spronk’s parents took their son to the hospital the following day – just in time, as it turns out.

“My body was starting to give out, and I collapsed in the hospital,” said Spronk. “The nurses were all there, and they kind of didn’t know what to do.”

Spronk was airlifted to Sioux Falls, S.D., and underwent surgery to repair his lung. He spent the next week mending in the hospital and another two weeks after that recovering from home.

Spronk says he was overwhelmed with the kindness of his peers during this time.

“It was definitely one of the most supportive times of my life,” said Spronk. “Something you face that’s pretty life threatening. [I] made new friends and realized the friends that were there always for me; all my teammates from the team and from other schools even.”

Laying in the hospital after such a harrowing ordeal gave Spronk a whole new outlook.

“When I was in the hospital… It gave me perspective,” said Spronk. “It’s made me stronger mentally. Despite how tired you get when you run – short on breath – it’s not going to match how that collapsed lung felt.”

Some would throw in the towel after an ordeal like Spronk’s, especially when doctors told him he was at a higher risk to suffer another collapsed lung, but the Edgerton, Minn., native pressed onward.

Spronk built up endurance and improved his times during his senior year. With college on the horizon, Spronk wanted to continue running, but wasn’t sure his times were fast enough. Then he met with Dordt cross country coach Greg Van Dyke.

“When [Aaron] visited campus with his parents, I was impressed with his great attitude towards athletics,” said Van Dyke, “and I knew that he would be a hard worker and a positive influence on those around him.”

Van Dyke offered Spronk a scholarship to run at Dordt, which Spronk gratefully accepted, appreciative of the chance.

“Whatever you’re good at, Dordt will accept that,” said Spronk. “I just used the strengths that I’m good at to help the team.”

“I think I took what I had from that lung experience and the encouragement I was given, and I just had the urge to share that with my college career,” he continued.

While Spronk’s lungs stayed strong, he admits that Year 1 at Dordt was fatiguing. He contemplated calling it quits after his sophomore year, but one teammate did his best to convince Spronk otherwise.

“Stephan McNamara would always say, ‘You’re staying, man. You’re staying,’” Spronk remembered.

And Spronk did stay. His times improved from freshman to sophomore year, and he elected to run indoor and outdoor track as a sophomore in order to train year-round.

Current senior Tim Bierma, a 3-time track All-American, has witnessed Spronk’s steady improvement since Day 1.

“Every year he’s dropped time, he’s improved,” said Bierma. “He’s been solid and consistent and just keeps on getting better and better, which is pretty hard to do every year over a four-year career.”

Needless to say, Spronk never wavered again in his desire to stick with running. He has found great satisfaction in taking a day-to-day approach, constantly analyzing how he can better fulfill his role. Spronk says he frequently sits down after practices and mulls over ways to improve.

“I just think about how I can be a better teammate mentally, physically and socially,” Spronk said.

Van Dyke, who works with Spronk during both indoor and outdoor track seasons as well as cross country, has noticed Spronk’s goal-oriented pursuit of excellence.

“One thing that has really impressed me about Aaron during his four years is that he always sets a goal and then works hard to attain it,” said Van Dyke. “I know that Aaron will come to every practice ready to work hard and also push those around him.”

Spronk will graduate in May but isn’t ready to give up the culture of organized running just yet. The 22 year old has looked into the possibility of assistant cross country coaching at either Marshall High School (Minn.) or Southwest Minnesota State University.

No matter where he ends up, Spronk will continue to pay forward the positivity he received while laying in a hospital bed as a high school junior, and he’ll be up for any challenges that arise.

“Even when you’re tired some days, you’ve got to get up and run,” said Spronk. “I like it because it’s so tough, and that’s the reason I stick with it.”

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