Tampa Coach Tops Cancer, Wins Title
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ The way some doctors saw it, the University of Tampa would have been playing the season in honor of coach Terry Rupp. Or maybe in his memory.
Diagnosed with a brain tumor last December, Rupp was told he could be paralyzed _ maybe dead _ by the time the Division II Championships came around last week.
Instead, he was in the dugout Saturday, coaching his team to a 6-1 victory over Kennesaw State for the Spartans’ third national title of the decade.
``It’s been a great year for me personally,″ said Rupp, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound former two-sport athlete who _ all in all _ looked like the healthiest guy among the group of players and coaches at the postgame news conference.
``I feel very fortunate that I’m still able to do what I love to do, especially considering how close I was to losing everything,″ he said. ``It’s a great story given the fact I was so low at one point.″
The trouble began last spring when Rupp, 32, started feeling numbness and tingling in his right arm. He wrote it off to overthrowing during batting practice.
Come October, the problem became impossible to ignore. He was brushing his teeth one morning when he felt his right leg lock up, then his arm start to tremble. He was having a seizure. He woke up a while later lying in the bathtub.
By that evening he had driven to the hospital and been diagnosed with a prune-sized tumor in the back left side of his head.
One of the few people he told as he scoured the country for treatment options was athletic director Hindman Wall.
``There were so many different opinions,″ Wall said. ``Some doctors said he would be paralyzed. Some said it was more than that, some said it was less. Any way it went, it was obviously a serious situation.″
Rupp ended up talking to five neurosurgeons. Three of them didn’t want to perform surgery for fear the results would leave him worse off than waiting to see whether the tumor would spread.
``It was a tough situation, with people telling you your career is over and you’re going to be struggling for your life,″ Rupp said. ``But I felt like I had to do something now. I’ve always been a person who likes to confront things. There was no way I could sit back.″
Rupp ended up going with a local doctor who was willing to perform the surgery _ Steven Brim of the Moffitt Cancer Center.
He underwent the operation on Dec. 9. Ten hours after he came out from the effects of the anesthetic, Rupp was out of intensive care, in his own hospital room doing jumping jacks for the doctor. Brem was so amazed, he was calling other doctors into the room to see Rupp perform.
``They talk about so-called medical miracles a lot,″ said assistant athletic and sports information director Gil Swalls. ``But this really was one. It was a bona fide medical miracle.″
Back to practice in January, Rupp kept up with his insistence that the players not dedicate the season to him or make anything special of the struggle he had been through.
But when the Spartans opened the season 5-6, he began to wonder if maybe his ordeal had become an issue. Maybe he had pushed his comeback too far.
``I felt maybe I had lost some of the drive that had made me an effective coach,″ he said.
That obviously wasn’t the case.
The players answered by winning 23 of their next 25 and making their third straight trip to the Division II title series in Rupp’s three seasons as coach.
While the team was making its turnaround, Rupp’s visits to the doctor were going well. A biopsy of the tumor showed it was benign. Two MRIs _ the last one just before the trip to Montgomery _ have turned up no recurrences.
He still gets up at 5 a.m. for one of his two daily workouts. He says he’s feeling good and not letting the little things bug him as much.
And now he has a national championship to cap what had already been quite a year.
``It’s like Dr. Brem told me when this all started _ this is a tough situation for anyone to go through,″ Rupp said. ``But he encouraged me to fight it head on, and he said if we did, hopefully we would have a Hollywood ending.″