Mauston High School soccer player Thomas Houy has always had a “go get it” attitude on the soccer field, an attitude which was developed when he first entered the world.
Houy was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a heart defect called Transposition of the great arteries (TGA), a condition where the two main arteries that control the blood flow in the heart are backwards.
“The blood that was supposed to be going around my whole body was going around my chest over and over again.” Houy said. “I couldn’t get any oxygen anywhere.”
In order to survive, he had to be airlifted to a hospital in Ann Arbor, where he received surgery.
Growing up, Houy was told he couldn’t play contact sports because of his condition. People telling him he couldn’t do it, only fueled his desire to prove them wrong.
“That’s when I started getting interested in sports,” Houy said. “I was like ‘you can’t tell me what to do, I can do sports if I want too.’”
Along with his own mentality to prove people wrong, he also had another set of people cheering him on: his family, who told him to not let his heart condition stop him from what he wanted to do in life.
“They said ‘Yeah there are some limitations,’” Houy said. “’But also opportunities if you look to the other side.’”
Since he couldn’t play sports, because he couldn’t pass a physical, Houy said he found his way around that by participating in recreational sports like basketball and soccer because it didn’t require him to have a physical. He said he participated until his doctors told him to stop playing.
In the meantime, in order to keep his dream alive of playing sports at school, he kept going to a series of different doctors for different physical tests.
“They said ‘You’re probably not going to pass a physical, but you can go to these doctors,” Houy said.
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Then one day, while sitting in class at iLead Charter School at Mauston High School, one of his teachers informed him he had been cleared to play high school sports. He said his classmates took him up on their shoulders and paraded him around the school. It was an hour before the first basketball meeting.
He played basketball for one season and has now made the transition onto the soccer field. One of his favorite memories was when he scored his first goal.
“The whole team was happy for me,” Houy said of the moment. “We all hugged in the center circle.”
Despite his condition, he is still treated like every other member of the Golden Eagles soccer team, he said his teammates will watch out for him if he gets tired in practice and let him know he needs to take a break. The biggest factor that has been the most eye opening for Houy was recognizing the team chemistry within the sports program.
“Mainly, when I did sports when I was younger, it was just show up,” Houy said. “It was crazy how close the team was, it was like a family.”
Gil Saylor, his teacher at iLead, said when he first met Houy he didn’t know he had a heart condition for two years, because it isn’t how he identified himself.
Saylor said he presents Houy with challenges daily to help him grow as a student. While it may take him awhile to process the information, and turn it into something better than anyone could ever imagine, Saylor pushes him because he knows there is nothing Houy can’t overcome.
“For him to be given a label very early on he never let it affect the way that he perceives himself or others,” Saylor said. “It’s what he does with all things. That’s why he continues to work and to be so good at whatever he does.”
At the time, Houy said he first wanted to participate in sports to prove others wrong and see how things went. Now, he realizes there’s a much bigger picture to a story that’s still being written, which continues to inspire those around him.
“Looking back on it, I didn’t quit,” Houy said. It didn’t even cross my mind to stop doing what I wanted.”