Arlington Citizen-Journal

Martin senior overcomes heart problem to become state-class athlete

Martin senior Nick Albus, left, reaches for the baton from teammate Dayton Johnson in practice last Thursday.
Martin senior Nick Albus, left, reaches for the baton from teammate Dayton Johnson in practice last Thursday. Star-Telegram

No one can question Nick Albus’ heart. The Martin senior and multisport standout has earned a spot in the Class 6A state track meet this weekend in two events: the 4x100 relay and the individual 100 meters.

It’s the first time that Albus, an all-district cornerback last fall for the Warriors and a pinch-runner on the baseball team this spring, has reached state in track. “It was on my bucket list of things I’d like to do,” Albus said. “I’m stoked to be able to go.”

Albus’ track success comes less than two years after the teen underwent open heart surgery to correct a congenital defect. It was the second heart surgery for Albus. The first came in 1996 when he was 3 days old.

“Nick Albus is a fierce competitor,” said Bob Wager, Martin’s football coach and athletic coordinator. “Nick Albus hasn’t just overcome adversity, he’s steamrolled it. I’m very proud to be his coach.”

Nothing seemed wrong when Ricky and Teresa Albus’ middle child was born. Ricky Albus, an assistant football and soccer coach at Martin, said his wife’s pregnancy was considered low risk. And when the baby arrived, the parents were initially upbeat.

“We were talking like normal and we hear one of the nurses whispering,” Ricky Albus said. “One of the nurses said, ‘He doesn’t have the pink color we like for him to have.’”

Albus was diagnosed with a heart condition called transposition of the great arteries. The arteries were reversed, causing too little oxygen to be pumped from the heart to the rest of the body.

The procedure to correct the potentially fatal condition was a success, and Albus enjoyed a healthy, active childhood. But in the summer after his sophomore year, something seemed wrong.

“He just started crashing in the middle of workouts,” Ricky Albus said.

The first cardiologist the Albuses visited thought the teen was dehydrated. The parents followed the doctor’s advice. But both Ricky and Teresa come from coaching backgrounds and are used to pushing kids close to their physical limits. They came to realize their son’s continued struggles during routine workouts were not those of a young athlete building up stamina.

“We had a couple close calls and said, ‘Look, this is not dehydration,’” Ricky Albus said.

The second cardiologist they saw, Dr. Vincent Tam of Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, found that Albus had developed a kink in one of the surgically repaired arteries. Albus had surgery in July 2013 and was back on the football field by October.

The difference in Albus’s strength and stamina following surgery was evident. As a junior, he excelled at football and track and also played a key role on the varsity soccer team.

“It’s literally like an old beat-up car that got a new engine,” Ricky Albus said.

Albus gave up soccer after his junior year so he could focus on track, the sport he considers his best chance to compete in at the college level. “I miss it a lot, but it probably did help me in the long run staying healthy,” Albus said of soccer.

Other than a minor hamstring injury, Albus has been able to stay healthy this spring and continually improve his times. The senior ran the second leg of the 4x100 at the 6A Region I meet this month at the University of Texas at Arlington. He combined with Daython Johnson, Jared Phipps and Keshun Reed to win the event and finish with the second-fastest time in the nation, 40.81 seconds.

“We knew we were going to run faster; we knew we had a chance to win,” Martin boys track coach Tim Mays said. “The time itself was a little bit exciting.”

Perhaps even more exciting for Albus was qualifying as a wild card in the 100-meter run. His time of 10.59 seconds, a personal record, was good for third at regionals. All the first- and second-place finishers reach state. The fastest third-place finisher at the state’s four regional meets also earns a bid.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon on May 2, several hours after the meet, that Albus learned he had reached state in the 100. “I was actually taking pictures for prom when Coach Mays texted me the news,” Albus said.

Albus’ father received a congratulatory text from former Martin Principal Laura Jones about him making state in the 100. “What do you expect?” Ricky Albus responded. “He’s been a wild-card since day one.”