On Sunday Sept. 24, 2006, the Rice University football team was holding a typical conditioning workout when the unthinkable happened. The team, having just been through a tough loss against Florida State University the previous day, skipped the usual practice drills and only conducted a conditioning workout that included weight-lifting followed by a 20-minute run. Approaching the end of the run, freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd stopped in his tracks and told trainers he didn’t “feel right.” He then collapsed onto the field, and trainers immediately began working on him while emergency services rushed to the scene. Lloyd was taken to hospital where he died approximately 14 hours later.
It was later proven that the cause of death was a genetic trait that can disrupt the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to muscles when the body is pushed too hard. A lawsuit was filed and later won by his parents against the university and the NCAA that recommended all NCAA colleges to require that athletic departments test their athletes prior to workouts for the genetic trait that essentially caused Lloyd’s death.
Sadly, cases similar to Dale Lloyd’s are not as rare as they should be. Every year, student athletes are pushed to their limits in the sweltering heat, and every year someone pays the consequences.
As of 2012, Lindsey Tanner reported in Yahoo News that:
“A total of 21 college football players have collapsed and died during conditioning workouts since 2000 — many on the first few days, when even the fittest players are often pushed too hard.”
The truth is, as tragic as the death of a student athlete is, it happens every summer. During the off-months, most players relax (in the air conditioning) and rest their bodies. Then, when summer conditioning sessions start and the heat index is at its highest, they are then driven hard for two and three practices a day in heat and humidity with which their bodies are simply not acclimated.
College athletes are not the only one’s affected by dangerously-intense summer workouts. Many high school teams push their players just as hard, if not harder, than college and professional teams.
New York Times writer Lizette Alverez states:
“In a period of less than 20 years, 40 high school football players have died from heat stroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. The numbers have increased in the past decade, the center found.”
Although the numbers are saddening, awareness seems to promise a better future. In an article on dukemedicine.org, Tracy Ray, MD, Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine states, “there should be no issues if the coaches demonstrate common sense, if there is water available and the kids take frequent breaks.” He goes on to say that “dizziness, nausea, chest pain, the inability to think straight, and an overall sense of doom are the body’s way of saying, stop, get to a cool place and get a drink.”
Athletes should also prepare themselves for the heat before summer workout sessions. Dr. Ray recommends drinking plenty of fluids even before conditioning starts. Getting the body hydrated well before the first workout will always help. Also, activities such as biking and running reasonable distances as well as doing work outside are ways to get the body acclimated to intense heat and humidity. Anything that prepares your body to operate in such an environment is a good thing.
Finally, all levels of sports programs, particularly football programs, are implementing summer workout safety guidelines. New recommended guidelines include phasing intense workouts in slowly, not using exercise as punishment, and training coaches in first aid, resuscitation and heart defibrillation. Coaches are also becoming more aware of the genetic sickle cell trait that caused Dale Lloyd’s death. Being educated about pre-existing conditions and taking new safety guidelines serious should provide a much safer environment for summer workouts.
Dale Lloyd had the same mentality as the majority of young athletes in America: always push yourself harder. When combining summer heat with unconditioned athletes, this can be an extremely dangerous mindset. However, what happened to Dale can be prevented and summer workout tragedies can be minimized and avoided with a few preventative measures and a little education.