A high school and university track coach in Maine died doing what he loved — and it's shedding a spotlight on cardiac arrest risks.
Will Fulford collapsed from cardiac arrest while running over the weekend. He was 29 years old.
"To see someone in their peak physical condition, die at such a young age, that’s a shock to anyone," said Jeremie Sirois, principal of Biddeford High School, where Fulford was a cross country and track coach.
"It’s a big upset," said student Jacob Bilsky, who ran track under Coach Fulford for four years.
The coach was running on a treadmill at the University of New England Sunday, when he suffered the apparent heart attack.
"It’s very, very shocking to see someone so good, go so fast," said Jack McDonald, the Director of Athletics at UNE. Fulford was a track coach at UNE. His wife of six months, Ashley, is the women’s rugby coach at the university.
"It’s a huge loss for the UNE family," said McDonald.
Cardiologists at Maine Medical Center say these kinds of cases are rare: about one in 40,000.
"Sudden death in an athlete is disturbing and unsettling," said Dr. Joe Wight, a cardiologist at Maine Med. "We think of athletes as the healthiest members of our society.”"
Dr. Wight said there are several kinds of pre-existing conditions that can heighten the risk for cardiac arrest during exercise.
"If you have symptoms of chest pain, or palpitations, or dizziness, or if you’ve passed out, if you have a family history of sudden death or a personal history of heart disease, all of those are risk factors," he said.
Fulford’s wife told the Portland Press Herald that he did not display any serious symptoms of heart problems, but he seemed to be recovering from a cold.
Students at Biddeford High School spent Tuesday, their first day back to school since Fulford’s death, meeting with grief counselors. Sports teams are planning to wear special stickers with Fulford’s initials on their uniforms, and games and meets will have a moment of silence for Fulford’s memory, according to the principal.
The track team plans to attend their coach’s funeral this weekend, and compete in a track meet right after.
"He was always of the mindset that you always go to the meet, no matter what," said Bilsky. "I feel like the best way to honor him would be to go and run that meet, and run it as hard as we can."