Aug. 28, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Tommy Trupo is a trooper. And as a soccer star, he’s a survivor.
“More than as few times when I’ve been out on the road recruiting, coaches will ask, ‘Hey, whatever happened to that high school All-America kid you signed, the kid from Charleston,’” said Thomas Olivier, Marshall’s assistant coach. “What’s the story there?”
Well, here’s that story.
Trupo, who had 102 goals in a stellar career at Charleston Catholic High School, was the West Virginia Player of the Year his senior season. He was in Herd Coach Bob Gray’s 2012 recruiting class.
Trupo, from Scott Depot, never made the short drive west on I-64 to Marshall that August.
He already was very ill when he played his final CCHS season, but only Trupo and his parents knew that early on in his struggles. He finally made to Marshall a year ago at this time, and what happened to him in between seems to defy the notion that he could again play a sport he loves … but he is – at center midfield – in 2014 for a second Marshall season, one that opens Friday night at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex against Duquesne.
“I had to have my colon removed,” Trupo said recently. “I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to play again.”
It helped that his father, Dr. Frank Trupo, is a hand and plastic surgeon, and his mother, Gail, is a registered nurse. They had an advantage in dealing with the situation, finding the best treatment and care for their son, Trupo said.
Some days, though, that didn’t make it better.
“I got ulcerative colitis when I was 16,” Trupo said. “It’s similar to Crohn’s disease. Some people live with it their whole lives. I struggled with it, went through all the medications, all the steps you do to try to get in under control.
“Some worked, some didn’t and I think I was the one-third of the one-third of the one-third. But I made it through high school; I graduated, and Bob, Thomas and the other assistant coaches, they knew the situation by then. And school and the preseason were about to start.”
A medical dictionary defines ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine (colon) in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.
The 5-foot-8 Trupo weighed 165 to 170 pounds when he played at Charleston Catholic and with Gray’s six-time state champion club team, the West Virginia Elite Titans. By the fall of 2012, he was down to 100 pounds.
“I looked at myself in the mirror before I was supposed to be coming here, and I walked up to my parents – no one really knew how serious it was except us three – and I was like, ‘Mom, I can’t do it,’” Trupo said. “I can’t go to college like this.
“My dad made some calls, took a trip to learn. We went to the Cleveland Clinic and saw a specialist, went up to New York and saw a specialist and decided what our options would be. We decided to have surgery.
“It was major stuff, and there were a couple of big risks my dad and other doctors told me about. My dad’s connections really helped, and we went to New York Presbyterian (and Weill Cornell Medical Center). Dr. Jeffrey Milsom did the surgery. He’s about the best of the best. My mom and dad weren’t about to let anybody just work on me.”
It got worse for Trupo, now 20, before it got better.
He said at one point after his August 2012 surgery, a blockage formed and doctors didn’t locate it through several examinations.
“It was tough, really tough,” Trupo said. “My surgery in August 2012 left me with an ileostomy bag, so I grew up really fast from that. That got reversed after the second surgery (in November 2012), and I was so glad to look down and see my stomach there again. I can’t put into words how happy I was about that.
“I was down to about 100 pounds. All I ate for the longest time were ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Now, I’m about back to 160. I’m reworked on the inside, of course, so it’s harder to gain the nutrients and everything, but I’m getting there.
“I do feel great, better than I have in five years. My entire colon is gone, and I don’t want to go into the nitty-gritty on the other details, but once they took it out, the doctors did a test on it and it was pre-cancerous. So, it had to go anyway. It might have been a blessing that it was when I was so young.
“The recovery was about 5-6 months and it was really rough just because for about two months, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t do much, and I was skinny as all get out. I didn’t know if I’d be able to play again.”
Trupo said he was as discouraged then as he is optimistic these days as an MU biology and pre-med major who said he had just “survived” taking Physics I and Physics II during the two 2014 summer sessions.
“I think it was the fifth day after my first surgery I finally came to and knew what was going on,” he said. “I remember they tried to get me up to walk and I went down on my legs … just rails. I said, ‘Dad, you know, I built those muscles over 18 years, how do I get them back?’ He said, ‘They’ll come back,’ and they did.
“Once I started getting on my feet, I remember Mom telling me, ‘Just walk a little bit each day.’ The first time I walked, it was to the end of our driveway and back, and I was done. I had to quit. Then, I just kept doing a little bit more.”
Trupo’s goal was to play as much as he could for the Herd – albeit a year later than he once figured. As a 2013 freshman, he played in 14 (of 19) games, starting three.
“Once I felt up to it, I started going to Todd Warner with Dynamic Physical Therapy in Charleston,” Trupo said. “They really helped me, worked on all my core because that’s where I lost all of the strength, where all my muscles were cut. About the middle of summer, I started to feel like myself physically, but I was still very pretentious and very cautious coming into preseason.
“I came in and Bob, Thomas, the other coaches they knew the situation, and I just said I’ll just give what I’ve got. To be honest, I was just glad to feel good then. Playing time then was just a benefit. I fully expected to redshirt and I spoke to Bob and they expected the same thing.
“But actually, I performed better than I thought. It’s like riding a bike. It all came back pretty quickly. I was only in OK shape, probably middle-of-the-pack on the team, and I was happy with that. I provided a little grittiness, a little determination that I think maybe some of the young kids lacked.
“Bob told me, ‘I know you’re going to fight for it; you can play different spots.’ I traveled to every game. I didn’t get in a few games, and they were tough games and that’s up to coach. I didn’t blame him. I was just a freshman.”
The Herd sophomore knows he’s not the Trupo of old. He wasn’t even the Trupo of his junior year at CCHS a year later.
“I’ll struggle at times because medically, not everything goes as smoothly as you want, but I was just happy to be where I am, because there were times when I didn’t even want to eat,” he said. “I couldn’t spend 10 minutes away from a restroom.
“So, life … You know, after you go through something like that, especially at a young age, I think you get a better perspective on life. Stamina? I don’t gain my nutrients the same as a normal person. The one problem -- and my Mom kills me on this every day – is I have to take iron, over the counter iron, because I don’t absorb it like a normal human being.
“So, the iron fuels the red blood cells and everything. And so my oxygen levels, after I start playing, I can’t keep up. But honestly, I fight through it. There are times in practice or games where I get tired and the coaches will see it and I can get light-headed pretty quickly. But I’ll tell them and they’ll give me 5 minutes and I’m good to go.
“I’m not going to let this stop me from playing. Look, it could always be worse. I appreciate absolutely everything in life more, not just soccer. I couldn’t eat … I think I lived off those ham-and-cheese sandwiches for two years, so if someone gives me anything to eat, I’ll eat it – within reason.
“I don’t take that for granted. Like, if I get kicked in the shins now, it’s like, that hurt, but I’ve experienced a lot worse. It really made me grow up, really, really fast.”
Trupo admitted that he struggled at NCAA Division I soccer last season, but he had learned as early as the fall of 2011 for the CCHS Irish how to manage and still have success.
“At Catholic, by the time I was a senior, I was down in weight, and kind of changed my game,” the MU sophomore said. “When I was younger, I’d be little more physical, exert myself for 90 minutes. As a senior, I had a good team around and I could collect the ball.
“I saw when I had a good opportunity to make my runs. I’m willing to run for the ball now if a teammate’s not willing to, and I’m willing to track back for the ball because it’s something I have always done. Bob has liked that in me; I’ll run, give you my all. If I sputter out at the 70th or 75th minute, well, I gave you 70 or 75 with everything I’ve got, and that’s the best I can do.”
So, the Herd is about to start the regular season -- Gray’s 20th at Marshall. What will be different for Trupo? He knows he may never again be the dominant player he was, but he seems at peace with that.
He talked at length about the afternoon last spring when he was walking across the MU campus and came upon a large mock-up of a colon during a health awareness expo.
Trupo sat down and discussed the fact he no longer had a colon with the representative from Cabell Huntington Hospital. Now, he said he is more than willing to counsel others who may have to go through the difficult surgery and treatment he did.
On the soccer field, he forges ahead.
“I think missing a year hurt me a bit,” Trupo said when asked what he wants from his own game in 2014. “Getting comfortable on the ball again, with so much pressure, was a challenge last season. Honestly, the college game at this level is so much faster, so much more physical.
“Now, my touch is just better, being confident on the ball and getting rid of it. Where I really struggled last year is I’d make a poor decision here, and something physically or technically would be lacking for me to take it to the next level.
“But with a ton of work and a good spring season, and a season under my belt as a freshman with a good amount of playing time, I think I’m finally ready to take that next step and provide some good things for this team.”