Zach Schering, now 17, was on brink of death seven years ago due to effects of Addison's disease.
CANTON Zach Schering was 7 years old when, as he recalls it, "everything started happening."
He was 10 that awful day when, as his mother remembers so vividly, "We were losing him."
The road is long for any athlete to become good enough to reach a state tournament in high school sports. Schering's path wound along the side of a cliff, without guardrails.
Now 17, Schering will represent Jackson High School in Saturday's OHSAA Division I boys diving championships in his second consecutive state meet. He will be on the one-meter board in Branin Natatorium, seven years after the worst day.
In the biggest week of his athletic life, he thinks about his sidetracked sojourn.
"I was super active from the time I was little," he said. "I played football, baseball and soccer. I was super active until I was about 7. Then I started getting weak and tired. I was losing weight. I was throwing up seven to 10 times a week.
"I dropped out of sports. I was in school, out of school. My health was declining."
He recalls that day when he was 10 and it all came to a head. He remembers waking up in an ambulance.
Zach's mother, Julie Keyser, thought everything had been tried. She sees now, in the hindsight of 20/20, what were some of the missed warning signs, such as craving salt. If only she had known. But she is married to a doctor, an oncologist, and even he didn't suspect until late in the game.
Diagnoses, such as possible ADHD, led only to frustration, as did prescriptions, such as for antidepressants.
Mom was coming to wit's end.
"He was 10 years old and his weight was down to 38 pounds," she said. "He stayed home from school the day we almost lost him.
"His older sister also stayed home that day. She went to wake him up, and he didn't respond. We called EMTs, and when they arrived they worked on him for 20 minutes. His body temperature was 90. His blood sugar was 20. We were losing him. I was hysterical."
He survived the scare and landed in Akron Children's Hospital, where a variety of tests were done.
Finally, a diagnosis
A verdict came in: Zach had Addison's disease, a rare immune-system disorder in which the adrenal glands produce insufficient levels of the steroid hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
The treatment was replacement hormones to compensate for failure of his adrenal glands. This began at once and is deemed at this point to be necessary the rest of his life.
"What I have and what was happening ... it was so nice to finally have the answer to why I was so sick," Zach said.
But there were more questions, and soon, after that day on the brink.
"He spent a week in the hospital getting IVs," his mother said. "He was very weak. He was walking funny."
An X-ray led to an order for an MRI, which led to another startling discovery: Zach had a tumor inside his femur, taking up a third of the bone mass.
The family has come to believe there is no proof the Addison's and the tumor are related.
The biopsy came as a relief — a noncancerous tumor — but it also was arduous. Zach was immobilized for six weeks.
It was decided that leaving the tumor in outweighed the risks of trying to take it out. It is still there.
"The heartbreaking thing was sports motivated him," Julie Keyser said. "He was good at it. To have it taken away from him when he's already had this horrible illness he's stuck with the rest of his life."
Return to normalcy
Evetually, Zach went back to "a normal life" within the context of the Addison's and the tumor. He returned to soccer, but experienced Addison's-related episodes ranging from inconvenient to terrifying.
"It took awhile to get back into things," Zach said. "From 11 to about 13, I was weak. At 14, I was in and out of sports. Everything was still hard on my body.
"I got good at soccer, but everything was taxing. I finally told my mom, 'I can't do this anymore. I just quit sports."
As a Jackson freshman, Zach amused himself with some random recreational diving. The pool director at Glenmoor told him he looked like a natural.
"I called my friend Danielle Daiger, who is my teammate now, and she told me how competitive diving works, and she kind of got me into it," Zach said. "I joined the team and just kind of went with it."
He became fairly good fairly fast, but it was impossible to ignore his athletic past.
"It scared me when I got tired," he said. "It was ... 'Here's another sport I'm going to try and not be able to stay with.'"
The Addison's and the leg are issues, but he works to keep it from being his essence. Among the people who have helped him through his ordeal, he said, his mother has been a wonderful life coach, while Phil Barr has been the perfect diving coach.
"We've been cautious, not overly cautious," Barr said while passing through Branin on Thursday. "The first year was feeling things out. The second year was, 'OK, we're going to push you a little harder.'
"It's definitely a challenge working around it. But we've both had to do it. And he has overcome."
Zach has two years left at Jackson, but already he is talking about diving in college. He thinks he might want to become a lawyer. He is living life.
The case of his diving career reflects how life can be ironic, full of twists and surprises.
"Of all the sports I tried before this," he said, "I thought I was good, but it wasn't really fun for me. In this, I can have fun with and do well at the same time.
"It's not something I do because I have to be active in something. It's something that I love."
Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or
On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP