Pro Soccer Player Shares Heart-Stopping Story
Drew Beckie recovers from mysterious illness that caused cardiac arrest.
Things were going very well for Drew Beckie in 2017. The Regina, Saskatchewan, native had a solid season with the Jacksonville Armada soccer team and had just made a positive showing in November at a tryout for a top-level Finnish team. With the real possibility of playing in Europe in 2018 on the horizon, the 27-year-old took time to meet up with a former teammate in Sweden.
That’s when something totally unexpected happened.
On a Sunday morning, Beckie arose with pain in his back, which then moved to his chest. When he lost feeling in his arms and jaw, his former teammate drove him to the hospital. He was surprised to learn that he was suffering a heart attack. The pains he first experienced were slight in comparison with those he suffered immediately afterward as his heart adjusted to the trauma.
The pain subsided after the first few days, and now Beckie is back in the U.S. continuing his extensive recovery. The slower pace has allowed him to go to church more frequently, improve relationships which had been put on hold, spend more time reading, and work toward finishing his undergraduate degree from the University of Denver.
Beckie recently signed with CatholicSpeakers.com to share his story of faith through suffering at events around the country. Here, he gives Register readers a preview of his unexpected journey, which initially brought suffering but is now a source of joy.
Last time we spoke, you were playing with the Columbus Crew. What has happened soccer-wise since then?
In 2014 I started playing for the Ottawa Fury. I was with them almost two years, then played for the Carolina RedHawks — now called North Carolina FC — in 2016, and then played for the Jacksonville Armada in 2017. I was having a great year with the Armada when a Finnish first-division team called and invited me to try out. I had a good showing with them in November and then flew to Sweden to visit my buddy, Nicolas Maripuu, who had played with the Armada in 2017.
And that’s when the problems arose?
Yes, in Stockholm I started to feel a little under the weather with flu-like symptoms. They weren’t too bad, though, so I tried to ignore them and move on. I had been taught growing up that as long as you weren’t seriously sick or injured, you can just play through minor maladies and it would all turn out well. That philosophy worked for years, but not this time.
After breakfast on a Sunday morning, I felt pain in my back, kind of like something you’d go to a trainer to get rolled out. I still didn’t think too much of it, but then it got worse and moved to my chest. That was scary enough, but it was followed by my arms and jaw going numb.
My buddy drove me to the hospital, where I was admitted an hour after the symptoms had started. Once admitted, I didn’t feel pain but was informed that I had suffered a heart attack. After a few hours of recovery, I started to feel pain in my chest again, and it was more intense than before. The one good thing was that it was intermittent rather than continuous — kind of like aftershocks from an earthquake. This is what can happen when the heart goes through a trauma.
Did the doctors find out what the initial cause of the heart attack was?
They said it was a virus that started the whole thing, but they weren’t sure which virus it was. They also told me that, quite ironically, being an elite athlete probably made the situation worse. It’s really strange, but the fact that I was in great shape allowed the virus to pump through my blood faster than if I had been in lesser shape.
Top athletes have suffered heart attacks in their prime years. Just last month, Davide Aston, a 31-year-old professional soccer player, was found dead in his hotel room on a Sunday. Another soccer player, Kirk Urso, who played for the Columbus Crew before I got there, died of a heart attack at the age of 22, also on a Sunday.
I don’t know what caused Davide’s heart problems, but I know Kirk had a congenital heart defect, which was different from my situation. I also know that the soccer world is taking heart health seriously. They have tests to see if players have cardiac problems, but the problems can sometimes be tough to detect.
Do you see any significance in Sunday being associated with the heart problems — like maybe resting and Mass being more important than games or practices that might occur that day?
I didn’t initially think of the heart attack as being a spiritual wake-up call, but maybe if I had been resting more on Sundays and going to church without fail, it would not have occurred. In some cities, you can find a Catholic church every few blocks, but not in Stockholm. I wasn’t planning on going to Mass and had actually been going less and less over the years. Traveling, practicing or playing games had slowly taken priority.
I had developed a mindset of serving the Lord every day in ordinary ways, which should be, needless to say, a part of every Christian’s life. However, at the same time, I was losing a sense of the necessity of worshipping God Sunday at Mass. Since the heart attack, I’ve had more time to reflect and read, so one of the books I’m about to open is The Incredible Catholic Mass, which is supposed to be a magnificent explanation of how the central act of Catholic worship is given to us directly by Christ and is unparalleled for our well-being in this life and the next.
Do you have a lot medical bills to pay?
Without me knowing, my sister Janine started a GoFundMe page that paid off, quite speedily, all my Swedish medical bills. It was a very pleasant surprise that brought a lot of relief. That was a good chunk of change that has been taken care of, so now I just have to deal with the American medical bills accumulating here in Jacksonville.
I can do most things a healthy person can do, but, as the doctors have instructed, I’m putting off strenuous exercise until June and am drinking more water. It’s a very odd thing for me not to go for a run or lift weights or go to practice, but the heart muscle is different from others. It needs more time to recover, so I’m taking an extended Sabbath, you could say. Even with weightlifting, muscles are not built in the weight room, but in recovery between visits to the weight room. Our fast-paced culture doesn’t like rest, but rest can be a very powerful time.
I am active in other ways, though. I’m working as a valet three days a week and finishing my degree from the University of Denver. Now I’m concentrating more on the minor of business and communications than the major I had started a decade ago. I’ve spoken at schools, a business convention and a men’s conference and would like to do more speaking. I recently connected with Joe Condit, who runs CatholicSpeakers.com, and now I’m listed as a speaker at his site, where people can book me. I’d be happy to speak anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, but especially in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Ontario or Saskatchewan. Maybe the talk can be called “Cardiac Attest,” since I would attest to the Lord’s providence even during cardiac arrest.
Have you found that because of the heart attack you have a more balanced sense of the world?
We sometimes don’t like things that happen and might even think there’s a deficiency in God’s providence, but everything happens as it should, at the right time. I can’t know all the reasons for the heart attack, but I do know that my view of life is becoming more balanced, I’m gaining more peace of mind, and I’m repairing relationships that I would otherwise not have been able to. I’m around my girlfriend more, too, which brings a greater sense of purpose as we ponder marriage.
Most importantly, I’ve been able to get to church more frequently than I had in the past. There’s Mass on Sundays, of course, like we talked about, but also my parish has Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours every weekday. There’s peace and strength gained from praying with other believers, and just staying in the chapel quietly before the Blessed Sacrament is so stabilizing and rejuvenating. It’s a silence that makes God’s voice much more audible and brings about a sense of noble strength.
It’s quite a contrast to playing at a stadium in front of thousands of people. Would you like play professionally again?
I would like to play professionally again, whether that’s MLS or another pro league here or in Europe. However, I’m still recovering and am currently out-of-shape, so it would be quite an achievement to get back there. As much as I love soccer and would be willing to play again, the more I’m away from it, the more I realize how insignificant it is. The pro soccer world is a very small part of life; there’s so much more out there.
Being taken away from the pro soccer world was humbling — a type of experience people can associate with pain — but it can also be enlightening, and it can even bring joy. Layers of pride, anxiety and misconceptions can be removed and a more accurate and fulfilling way to see life can come forth. It’s kind of like becoming a child of God again — or at least becoming a better child of God after already having become one in baptism. It becomes easier to see that, even as adults, we need to be taken care of by God, our Father.
The events of the last five months have also brought to mind more clearly how, not only is there more to life than soccer, but there’s more to life than this life. Our time here is short, yet eternity never ends. It’s a much bigger and more beautiful world — provided we persevere in the faith — than this one is. Seeing God face-to-face is the primary thing, but I’m also looking forward to seeing the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
I’m gaining a better appreciation for the roles that setbacks, rest, prayer and the sacraments play in our journey toward eternity. With God’s help, I’m able to make the decision every day to be happy. Sometimes we see happiness as fleeting or dependent upon being healthy or wealthy or something else, but happiness is really a decision. We can let go of our own will, accept things as they are, and make the most of them — all the while knowing God our Father is with us.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.