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Challenged off the mat: Glendale’s McMillen bounces back from heart condition

Mirror file photo Brock McMillen was diagnosed with arrhythmia in September, which he said was “pretty scary.”

Glendale junior Brock McMillen is a returning Class 2A state champion and two-time finalist. So he certainly knows about challenges on the mat.

He also knows about challenges off the mat. McMillen had more than someone his age should have in the offseason.

In September, during a routine checkup at UPMC Altoona, he was diagnosed with an arrhythmia, which affects the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. The arrhythmia was causing tachycardia, which, according to WebMD, is a condition that makes your heart beat more than 100 times per minute. McMillen’s heart rate soared to nearly 200 times a minute.

Hearing he had a heart problem was something the supremely conditioned McMillen wasn’t expecting that day. It was scary news.

“Anything with your heart is pretty scary,” McMillen said, “but I have faith and trust in God. I was able to get through it.”

McMillen, who went 43-1 last season and was named the Mirror’s Co-Wrestler of the Year, said there were signs after the 2018-19 season that he was having a problem.

“I noticed when I was at practice,” McMillen said. “Wrestling is what helped me notice it because I got more tired. I could feel it wearing on my body. Basically, I just went to the doctors for a normal checkup, and they found it.”

The doctors at UPMC Altoona thought his condition was so serious that McMillen was life-flighted from Altoona to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“It was very scary,” Brock’s mom, Angie, said. “We took him to the pediatrician because he had complaints of rib pain at wrestling practice for a couple days, and it’s unlike him to complain that much.

“When he got the pediatrician’s office, they sent him to the ER because they had listened to his heart and heard the abnormality of his beat. You could tell everybody was very, very concerned. My kids are my world, and to watch Brock go through something like that is scary.”

Some athletes have to stop playing sports when they find out they have heart problems. McMillen said he had some concerns he might not be able to wrestle again.

“I was looking toward that,” he said. “My main point was getting healthy, but in the back of mind, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to wrestle. But God worked it out, and I’m able to.”

McMillen had a heart catheterization at Children’s Hospital on Oct. 30. He no longer has an arrhythmia, but he has an unexplainable tachycardia. That is being controlled by Metoprolol, which he takes every night.

“I’ve got it regulated right now,” he said.

When did he know he’d be able to wrestle again?

“At first, they made a big deal (out of it),” McMillen said, “but after a day or two, they told me it was normal, and it was nothing that would hurt me in the long run. I would be able to return to normal things.

“I was out for a week or two, but I was back to relatively normal. They had me on pills and stuff. I had to wait until they scheduled that heart cath. They had monitors and stuff just to see what was going on. I was able to train basically through it all.”

McMillen doesn’t have many things he has to watch out for. He does have to stay away from caffeine. After the season, he’ll undergo another heart catheterization in an attempt to repair the abnormal area of his heart.

“They feel pretty certain it’s near the pacer node. We’re praying that they can do that,” Angie McMillen said, “so he doesn’t have to stay on the medication.”

It was a busy offseason for Brock, who verbally committed to wrestle for Pitt. Committing as a junior is pretty early, but he thought the time was right.

“I really never considered going to Pitt,” he said. “But then they came on a home visit, and I went out and visited the campus. They’re a growing program, and it seemed like the right fit for me. I like the coaches and everyone there.”

McMillen won two Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling state titles before he got to high school, and he was ranked the third best freshman in the state by PA Power Wrestling.

He went out and proved it by going 41-4, with all of his losses coming to Mount Union’s Josh Boozel, and finishing second at 113 pounds at the state tournament. He lost to Boozel in the finals of the District 6 Tournament, Southwest Regional and the PIAA Championships.

McMillen went 43-1 last season, and he captured district and regional titles to get to Hershey. It wasn’t easy, though, at the Giant Center. He fought his way through three straight 3-2 decisions, including in the finals against Bishop McDevitt’s Chase Shields, to become Glendale’s first state champion.

After the season, McMillen was treated for an elbow injury he wrestled with throughout the postseason.

“It was a dream I had since I was a kid,” McMillen said of winning gold, “so it felt pretty good. Looking down the road, I have goals of becoming more than a one-time state champ. I was excited.”

Now that he’s climbed to the top of the medals stand, others will be looking to knock him off the top step. McMillen is a hunter, but he’s now the hunted on the mat.

“I used to feel the pressure, but I turned that into me realizing how successful I want to become,” he said. “I feel like it’s a good thing that people are gunning for me. It makes me want to train harder, so I can beat them by more and keep improving in that way.”

McMillen is 14-0 with six pins and five technical falls at 132 and 138. He captured the 132-pound title at the 43-team Panther Holiday Classic with a 6-1 win over Tunkhannock’s David Evans.

“He looks even better than last year,” Glendale coach Billy Dubler said. “He looks like the best I’ve ever seen him. It looks like he’s weathered the storm and he’s having a really good time this year. He’s having a lot more fun. I’ve seen him laughing and smiling more than I’ve seen in the past two years, and it shows in his wrestling.”

“For the beginning of the season, coming back slowly, I’ve been through a lot, and I feel like I’ve been wrestling pretty well,” McMillen said. “I feel like I’ll be a way better wrestler by the end of the year.”

McMillen is two wins away from reaching the 100-win plateau as a junior. Later, he’ll look to add to his extensive medal collection as he vies for his second title at districts, regionals and states.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” McMillen said. “I’m just happy to be on the mat and wrestling. It’s what I love to do.

“I’m looking to go for my second title. Last year, I was cautious wrestling at states. I was nervous. I wanted a title, and I kind of wrestled everyone closer than I would have liked. This year, I’m looking to blow matches open and score more points.”

As far as his heart is concerned, McMillen seems to be unfazed on the mat.

“I try all I can do to make him tired at practice,” Dubler said. “I can’t seem to figure out how to do it.”

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