Winlock senior football player and wrestler Jay Crow is no stranger to taking hits on the offensive line and on the mats where he’s constantly throwing his body against his opponent.
But no hit could have prepared him for the one he took in February of 2019 when he lost his mother, Megan Crow-Rodriguez, unexpectedly to heart failure. She was just 33 years old.
That summer, Crow felt chest pain of his own and his doctor brought him in for thorough cardiovascular testing to determine whether Jay may be at risk for the same ailment that likely took a mother from her son too soon.
Through the array of tests, doctors discovered that Crow suffers from Long QT syndrome, a heart signaling disorder that can signal fast, chaotic heart beats also known as arrhythmias. It is a rare chronic condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people per year in the United States, with symptoms that typically don’t develop for decades.
Still, because Crow-Rodriguez was never tested for, or showed symptoms of, the condition it can’t be known for certain whether she suffered from Long QT, or any another heart condition.
Now 17, Crow is in the midst of his fourth and final year at Winlock High School where his Cardinals football season ended in the playoffs. The only player on the 2022 Cardinals team to play all four years for coach Ernie Samples, Crow was asked to play out of position at offensive line on the eight-man football team.
The natural fullback, with both speed and strength, kept his head high and did what was asked of him for the team. Crow has always been a lead-by-example type. He didn’t need the shine of having his name in the newspaper for scoring three touchdowns each game to drive his love for playing the game.
After all, he still enjoyed running into people.
“We got him in the end zone there at the end so he got his touchdown,” Samples said. “He never complained.”
Complaining isn’t in Crow’s DNA.
“He really has never shown any sign of weakness, never quits,” Samples said. “He’s one of the guys asking for more. He’s out front in all of our conditioning programs. He’s just one of those seniors who sets the example for your program.
“He’s a good kid and we’re definitely going to miss him.”
Samples and the coaching staff were required to carry an automated external defibrillator (AED) accessible within three minutes at all times for Crow. Samples acknowledged the thought was always in the back of his mind – What if? – but thankfully the life saving device was never needed.
Now Crow is gearing up for his favorite sport – wrestling, all while dealing with a heart condition which genuinely could make any passing day his last. And yet, Crow continues to compete in athletics because he won’t let his condition dictate the manner in which he lives his life.
“I really just want to live my life to the fullest regardless of what hand I was dealt,” explained Crow.
He also noted the advantages to being fit and active to mitigating his condition, and ultimately, thriving.
“I don’t want it to weigh me down. I don’t want to use (my condition) as an excuse for not accomplishing what I know I can accomplish,” Crow added.Wrestling is Crow’s passion. Crow claims he isn’t the most athletically gifted kid which is why sports such as basketball and baseball never interested him all that match. While he did play baseball as a freshman, he was never inspired to put the work in to develop an elite jumper or become an elite hitter.
Instead, Crow pursued wrestling because he (once again) enjoys the contact, along with the sense of accomplishment he gets when he learns a new skill or wins a match.
“That’s why I love wrestling,” admitted Crow. “It pushes you the hardest (of any sport). I love pushing myself whether it be in the gym or on the mat or anywhere. Which I guess is a little ironic given everything with my heart condition, but I’m just really passionate about becoming a better athlete.”
And make no mistake, Crow works hard. He started weightlifting in eighth grade and currently lifts no fewer than four times per week at Thorbeckes Athletic Center after wrestling practice. This season, Crow is aiming to win the 2B state championship at his 182-pound weight class. After being named an alternate for State out of his region as a junior, he enters the season ranked seventh among 2B wrestlers at 182 pounds.
His coach believes in him.
“I think it’s highly likely especially with the amount of work that he’s put in in the offseason and how hard he’s been going in practice,” Winlock wrestling coach Jed Klein said. “I think he has a real shot.”
Since taking over the head coaching position at Winlock in 2020, Klein has seen Crow develop over the last three years. Klein echoed Samples in calling Crow the hardest working kid in the gym, a natural athlete and someone who wants to be challenged. Klein also called Crow’s relentless offense his best tool on the mat.
“The offense, his intensity,” Klein said. “He sets a pace and just keeps going after it until the round is over. He’s constantly on the offensive.”
There again, that’s Crow getting caught up in the physicality of the competition.
“It’s not always about winning for me. Winning is a nice bonus, don’t get me wrong,” Crow added. “I’m competing against myself. I just want to see improvement and I guess the sky is the limit. You can never really get too fit, or too good at anything. I just want to see what I can do. That’s what really drives me.”
All the while, his heart condition lies under the surface like a ticking time bomb without a timer display. Klein like Samples acknowledged the ever present fear he grapples with each day watching Crow on the mats at practice or at meets.
“Yeah all the time,” Klein admitted of his concern. “It’s really scary having a kid with a heart condition, but you kind of have to roll with the punches and just be ready in case something does happen. We’ve been lucky so far.”
At times, Crow notices the premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) his heart also suffers from. He feels the fluttering and the rapid heart beats. He is now on a pair of medications to counter his condition as much as possible and is required to carry the AED with him when he competes.
How much does the thought of suffering a heart attack while competing on the mat go through his mind?
“This may sound weird, but I’ve kind of shrugged it off,” Crow said. “I guess I haven’t really let it get to me a whole lot. Which may have its pros and cons because on one hand, I’m not too bothered by it, on the other, I may get too lax about it or not be as concerned as I should be. It is a serious issue.”
It’s hard not to root for Crow. He’s persevered amidst every obstacle, challenge and heartbreak life has thrown his way and yet, through it all, he remains a positive, soft-spoken, humble, thoughtful and hard-working teenager.
“His mindset is insane. There’s no breaking him mentally,” noted Klein. “He always has a positive attitude, I’ve never seen him have a bad day. Always upbeat, always motivating other wrestlers.”
For Crow, having the chance to wrestle one last season is reason enough to be positive. When it ends, he’ll keep pushing forward one heartbeat at a time.