BOGACZYK: Seccurro Runs Through Illness to Herd Success
The Word on the Herd-Sept. 3, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When runners set goals, they’re often seeking to establish what they call a new “PR” – personal record. Drake Seccurro is no different as Marshall opens its 2015 cross country season.
Seccurro, however, is one of those runners who doesn’t like to reveal his desired time. Besides, there’s a different “PR” that’s most important to the junior from Hurricane.
His PR is really “personal resilience.”
“My goal – I do set times – but I have a standard answer like most runners on a team … do well for the team, improve, but a goal for me is to just run,” Seccurro said. “As far as I’ve come and after all I’ve been through, the goal is to be healthy and run. It’s what I love to do.
“I wouldn’t say it’s what I live for but I think it does help me keep living, mentally and physically. It’s an important part of my treatment. I think it keeps me in tune. I want try to be all-conference, sure. I want to help us have success. But for me, the goal is just be out there on the roads, to do what I do.”
Seccurro, 20, has battled Crohn’s disease, the inflammatory bowel ailment in the lining of a digestive tract that can cause severe pain and diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. While he’s had the disease all his life, things didn’t turn really bad until his sophomore year at Hurricane High, when he missed more than 85 days of school and had to quit running because at 5 feet 3, he slipped to 87 pounds.
In some ways, it’s not evident that Seccurro continues his battle, although he carries only 135 pounds on his 5-8 frame. He says he’s as healthy as he’s been in a decade, and his Crohn’s is in remission. And during a recent Saturday 10-mile intrasquad hill-climb time trial, his time improved to 58:00 from 61:31 a year earlier.
He’s also owns a 3.65 GPA, majoring in biology on a pre-med track. His goal professionally?
Seccurro wants to be the kind of pediatric gastroenterologist he’s dealt with so much, and this summer he spent a few weeks shadowing those doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where he’s visited for more than treatment.
Seccurro came to Coach Jeff Small’s program as a walk-on and this year – the Herd starts the 2015 men’s and women’s cross country season Saturday at Evansville, Ind., in the five-team Early Bird Invite – he’s been given some scholarship money by the veteran Herd coach.
“Drake is just an outstanding young man who is a great representative of Marshall both on the cross country team and in the classroom,” Small said. “He’s a super kid. His personality is probably one of the reasons we gave him a shot. He’s just a good person to have on the team.
“Through very hard work and desire on his part, he has taken his average talent level, battled his health issues and improved himself into a very good runner.”
There was a time not so long ago when neither Small nor Seccurro could have said that.
“I was sick my first years of high school, then started developing my junior and senior year,” Seccurro said. “I was fortunate to be on first Hurricane team to ever qualify for States in cross country – 2012, my senior season.
“I didn’t think I could be a No. 1 man, but I managed to get my health in check and it was really cool to be captain of the only cross country States team at Hurricane. It was bad before that. My sophomore year, in the fall, I wasn’t progressing in times, losing a lot of weight, not growing at all and by the time track and rolled around in the spring (of 2011) I was sleeping 16-17 hours a day.
“I’d get done with school, run – if I could – and then instantly go to bed. About that time I was using the bathroom frequently, and we decided for me to see a gastroenterologist. It took a while to get into see one, but by that time I was in a really bad situation, needless to say.”
As much as anything, it was Seccurro’s upbeat and aggressive attitude that paved his way to those 8K events he runs for the Herd these days. It helped that he was an HHS teammate of Caleb Bowen, who had gone on to run for Small – and is now an MU assistant coach – but Seccurro’s willingness to take that connection and impress Small helped immeasurably.
“The first doctor I saw made me quit running, said I should withdraw from the track team in high school,” Seccurro said. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’re ever going to run again, and I definitely don’t think you’re ever going to run competitively again.’ You might be able to go out once in a while and run a mile or so, but this is a serious disease and until it’s under control I don’t know what you can do.
“I started out at Cabell Huntington Hospital and a doctor there told me it was the worst case of Crohn’s he’d ever seen. I ended up transferring to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, because they have one of the best pediatric gastro programs in the nation and my doctor there (Dr. Shezad Saeed) was also a huge help.
“Before I left, I had this idea I’d never be quite normal again, that I’d have to live this life on a disabilities list when I entered a new school, that I was going to have to have home health care. I just didn’t know. But with the team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the support of my parents (Bruce and Eva Seccurro) they really wanted me to push the envelope.”
The dark-haired Seccurro – he had been a swimmer and play soccer as a youth, too -- said he didn’t want to hear that Crohn’s and cross country didn’t mix.
“Really, I think running is what helped me deal with the disease,” he said. “At first I didn’t know if I’d live a normal life again. A lot of Crohn’s patients are home-bound. They’re home-schooled, some live in a hospital bed all the time. But before it turned bad, I’d always been a pretty driven kid. And once I knew I had the disease and limitations were put on my life, I wanted to see how far I could push myself.
“I didn’t want to be confined in this box I’d been put in for my initial diagnosis. So, with running, it came slowly – and like they say, slow and steady wins the race – but it has inspired me to keep going. Every step I take, every run I take I’m better than I was the day before and farther away from the hospital bed I was in my sophomore year. I see the progression from my disease, so running has been a big help mentally and physically.”
That attitude still didn’t make Seccurro an NCAA Division I cross country prospect – but Marshall had what he wanted and needed.
“It was really different,” Seccurro said of his landing with the Herd. “Caleb had been my teammate and he was running for Marshall. And with all my health problems I wanted to stay close to home. I ran decent time for the state, and dropped like 2 1/2 minutes off my 5K PR from my junior to senior year, so there was a clear progression.
“I started emailing Coach Small. He was very supportive, but he said we should meet at the end of the year, let’s see what you do in the state meet. So, I wasn’t the first on his list, but I was on his radar … and I think qualifying for States and running pretty good time -- and it being the fastest State Meet of all time -- Coach (Small) definitely became more interested.
“I also wanted to put myself out there. I came to watch Marshall run in meets when I could. I actually went to Ohio University one day to watch the team race and talked to Coach Small there, which was really cool, and he said, ‘If you’re coming out here to watch these guys – I know Caleb is your friend – but if you came to support us already, I know you want to work to be on this team.’”
Securro was selling himself, but he said it still wasn’t a done deal.
“I really can’t thank Coach Small enough for just giving me a chance,” the Herd junior said. “I came on an unofficial visit and told him my health situation and never once did he say no or doubt me. He told me, ‘I’m not going to put a carrot on a stick and say you have to run a time to get on the team. I just want you to get out there and work your hardest and at the end of the season if it’s all going to come together, it’s all going to come together.’
“By the end of my (high school) senior track season I got sick again, but prior to that I’d run the two-mile fast enough that he was comfortable in letting me on the team as a walk-on. I ran the times (to qualify for the team) and I hit the goal-range, but even as a freshman walk-on I wasn’t prepared. I was still a little behind the curve, trying to get my Crohn’s under control.
“It’s kind of like a science; you have to have this schedule and once you get the schedule down, you can keep the disease at bay.”
Small said Seccurro’s 5K best was 16:40 when he arrived at Marshall. He improved that to 16:15 as a freshman and then 15:42 last season. The Herd coach said Seccurro could be a “top five or six” runner for Marshall this fall.
The only blip so far with the Herd came in the 2013 Conference USA Championships, when Seccurro’s illness got the best of him and he had to drop out.
I ran that year, but ended up having a bacterial infection in my intestines – another complication – and when I dropped out of the conference meet, I expected Coach Small to be really upset,” Seccurro said. “He took me all the way to Texas to race and I didn’t even finish the race. I was upset with myself that this guy took a chance with me and I let him down. Instead of being negative, Coach just said, ‘Go take care of yourself. Do what you need to do. You need to get this under control so you can progress and be the better running you want to be someday.’ He’s been like this the whole time and I can’t thank him enough.
“They’ve been good about letting me alter my workouts, maybe where I can’t run hard one day, I do it another day. Coach Small and my teammates have been good about that. They’ll let me manipulate things when it sometimes goes against their schedule, but it helps me -- and you can’t ask for more than that.
“It’s in remission now. I’m very fortunate. To keep it in check, every seven weeks I get an IV infusion of a drug called Remicade. I hate to compare it to chemo because it’s definitely not as strenuous and I’m not losing my hair or anything like that, but they infuse the drug into me.
“I go to CarePoint Infusion Center in Charleston and it takes 3-4 hours. I usually take a nap after has what I call a ‘Remicade hangover.’ The body has to kind of reset itself. I take vitamins and probiotics every day. As long as I keep on the drugs and they don’t reject -- which can happen -- I figure I’ll be OK.” With two seasons left, he has plenty of time to do what he loves, but his focus remains farsighted, too. It’s after that long-distance academic run when he hopes to be known as Dr. Seccurro.
“I spent three weeks this summer shadowing Dr. Saeed and his colleagues in pediatric gastroenterology,” Seccurro said. “When I first teamed up with Dr. Saeed, they liked the idea of my running, pushing my body to the limit, to see how that might affect the disease. They’ve kept track on how I was progressing.
“I also shadowed Dr. Peter Margolis. They started a program called C3N (Collaborative Chronic Care Network) and I’m part of a trial. I kind of collaborate with them, and I’ll be available for mentoring kids who are just diagnosed, talk about what I went through. Starting this fall I’ll be assigned a patient, and we’ll talk about what he or she can do to help themselves feel better.”
Seccurro said there are only three pediatric gastroenterologists in West Virginia, and since it’s a life he’s lived, that’s the direction he’s taking.
“Crohn’s affects 1 million people in the United States, maybe more now,” he said. “It used to be you didn’t see it in people until they were older, 50 or beyond, but the numbers are increasing in kids. It’s not a huge epidemic yet, but we’re definitely the minority when it comes to any major disease, and it can be hard to find people who know exactly what going through.
“I shadowed the doctors because hopefully that’s what I’m going to be able to do some day. There are a lack of pediatric GI doctors, only two I could see here. I was on a waiting list for more than three months, but when it got severe they had to move me up.
“Kids like that don’t have time to wait. I didn’t have more time to wait. I don’t want to think about what might have happened. It’s a scary thought. Now, it’s taken four years for everything to start clicking again. But every step I’ve taken has been worth it.”