With a temperature of 37 degrees and an icy wind flapping flagsticks, one day after the fall’s first snow blanketed The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course and postponed the first day of the state tournament, Stevenson’s first golfer teed off.
It wasn’t golf weather in central Illinois on Saturday morning, but for Patriots coach John Rueth, it sure beat the first day of the season.
That day wasn’t so sunny either. Rueth, 56 and strong, went into septic shock. His body temperature spiked to 105 degrees, necessitating medical personnel to pack in him ice. He spent the next 14 days hospitalized with sepsis. He lost 50 pounds.
“The doctors were really concerned if I was going to make it or not,” Rueth said.
Understandable since sepsis is an infection that can kill.
Rueth, mind you, has been a Type I diabetic for 44 years. He says he knew something was wrong since summertime, but doctors couldn’t put their finger on it. He saw the head of colonoscopy at Northwestern Memorial Hospital four times.
Then that one day in August, his world got flipped.
“Sepsis and diabetic, (the doctors) said that’s not a good combination,” Rueth said. “But we got through it.
“It just knocks out your body,” Rueth added. “It’s something I wouldn’t want to happen to anybody.”
Rueth, who started coaching Stevenson’s girls golf team in 1992 but has served as the boys golf coach for the last 18 years, returned to work at Daniel Wright Junior High in Lincolnshire on Monday. Just two days earlier, his Patriots hoisted the second-place trophy in Class 3A, as their one-day total of 298 was 1 stroke more than champ Hinsdale Central and 1 fewer than third-place Lockport.
It was the best finish for Stevenson, which placed third in its first state appearance last year.
Senior Mark Noonan led the way for the Patriots in the one-day shootout in Bloomington, firing an even-par 72, 4 shots back of medalist Ben Stuzas, a Lockport sophomore. Stevenson seniors Alex Kim and Jackson Bussell (the defending state champ) each fired 75 to tie for 18th, while sophomore and Palatine sectional champ Conan Pan carded a 76 (tie for 31st) for the Patriots.
“It was tough down there, but the kids played well,” said Rueth, whose Patriots also got an 80 from junior Jake Surane and an 85 from sophomore Billy Fishbein. “They’re disappointed. You lose by 1 (stroke) and you go back and say, ‘If I would have done this, if I would have done that …’ “
But who from Stevenson could complain about the golf season? While Rueth was recovering from his illness, young assistant coach Dale Bares ran the team and blended seamlessly with a veteran group led by the Bucknell-bound Bussell, Noonan and Kim.
Rueth returned to the team a day before the North Suburban Conference meet and was with the Patriots the rest of the way. He downplayed the notion that his illness affected his golfers during the season.
“You just have to do your best, and they came through (at state),” Rueth said. “For them to shoot 298 in those kind of conditions (on Saturday), I thought was outstanding.”
Health-wise, Stevenson’s golf coach is far from outstanding. While he’s graduated from wheelchair to walker to cane and has gained 10 pounds since he’s been out of the hospital, he says he’s been told it might be more than a year before he’s back to “normal.” And he’s not even sure he will ever get there.
“The big thing is strength,” said Rueth, whose vision was also severely jeopardized during his illness. “Last year at this time I was 180 pounds. When I left the hospital I was 130. A lot of (the weight loss) was due to the infection.”
Rueth teed it up for the University of Wisconsin back in the day, so we know he’s a competitor. And life is a lot like golf. You have to stay in the moment and can’t lament the bad breaks.
“It was a long process to get back,” Rueth said. “We’ll see if I can even play (golf) next year.”
That would be a good day.
• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64