Many professional athletes – especially those still in the early stages of their careers – undergo body transformations during the summer months. For players who were recently drafted, that often means putting on extra muscle mass. For players who have been in the professional ranks for a year or two, it sometimes means fine-tuning their conditioning or working on a specific area of the body, such as strengthening their legs.
But not too many people can say they’ve been in the same boat as Avalanche prospect Tom Fritsche.
As an 18-year-old at Ohio State University, the forward was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team and was honored as the National Freshman of the Year by Inside College Hockey after leading the Buckeyes in scoring with 45 points (11g/34a) in 42 games.
But after a solid sophomore campaign, Fritsche was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic intestinal disorder. Essentially, UC is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes nutrients to go right through your system.
Being diagnosed with an unfamiliar disease is scary for anyone, but even more so for a young man who relies upon his body for a living.
“When I first found out, I really didn’t know what it was,” said Fritsche. “Some people are better within a day. Some people are better within a week. The first week I was hopeful that I was going to get better, but after I lost the weight it kind of sunk in that it was going to be tough.”
The weight Fritsche refers to wasn’t a matter of a few pounds. Instead, he lost 45 pounds from his once-sturdy frame, and missed the first half of the 2006-07 season.
Fritsche returned for the final 19 games of that year and earned the CCHA’s Terry Flanagan Memorial Award, given annually to “an upperclassman that has overcome some type of personal adversity and is active on the university campus and surrounding community.”
But even after returning to the ice, he never felt like he was at 100 percent physically.
“I’m still not all the way right,” said the Parma, Ohio native. “Even my senior year in college I wasn’t right. To be honest, last year after the All-Star break was the first time I started to feel pretty good. I started to feel faster.”
Unfortunately, Fritsche suffered a concussion late in the year, and with Lake Erie out of the playoff picture, it was decided that there was no reason to rush him back into action. Instead, the time away from the ice allowed him to take care of his body and prepare for the 2009-10 campaign.
Although he’ll have to deal with UC his whole life, the 5-foot-11 forward has found medicine that helps him keep the symptoms under control as long as he’s eating right and watching his body closely.
And now that he’s been doing that, Fritsche says he feels as good physically as he has since he was diagnosed with the disorder. He even managed to put on between 10-15 pounds over the summer and boasts that he can definitely feel the difference when he’s on the ice.
“I feel a lot stronger, and that was the main focus,” said Fritsche. “Now I’m trying to slim down and make it all good weight by keeping the muscle.”
Knowing Fritsche’s resiliency, it wouldn’t be smart to bet against that happening.