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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Tom Rubino ’21 excelling after courageous medical comeback

<m Rubino ’21 is a sophomore nose tackle for the Carleton football team. Rubino grew up in Monaca, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Pittsburgh. He began playing football at the young age of five, and it quickly became a part of his normal routine. Rubino continued his football career into high school, at which point he experienced his first stroke.

One day during the winter of his freshman year of high school, Rubino was lifting early in the morning with the football team, when suddenly he began to feel lightheaded. “I tried to explain to my coach how I was feeling, but my words just resembled gibberish,” Rubino said. “After 20 minutes of sitting and drinking water, I was fine. I did not go to the hospital, and the school nurse deemed me fine to attend classes that day.”

A year passed, and Rubino was lifting again during the spring of his sophomore year. He was at his local gym and suddenly began to feel similar sensations to the incident from the previous year, including tunnel vision, lightheadedness and confusion.

“I looked down at my own hand that was grabbing onto my pant leg,” Rubino said. “I had no conscious control over its movements and had to physically release my pant leg from its grasp using my other hand. At this moment I went into the locker room to wait it out, just like a year prior. However, this time it was not going away.”

He tried to make a call for help on his cell phone, but could not recall his own phone password. Rubino stumbled to the front desk of the gym and used the phone to contact his mother. After being rushed to the local hospital where CT scans and cognitive function tests were performed, the doctors were going to discharge Rubino on the consensus that “this happens to teenagers sometimes.” Rubino’s mother was not convinced and took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital. The MRI taken at the hospital revealed clots in Rubino’s brain and that he had experienced a stroke.

After a few days in an intensive care unit, Rubino underwent open heart surgery to close a hole between his atrium and correct an anomalous path of his right coronary artery. For his senior year, Rubino rejoined his high school football team, but passed another clot while weight lifting, a week after the season had ended. “It is unknown how this could have happened, but I was sure that I would never be playing football again,” Rubino said.

Ending up at Carleton is not what Rubino had originally predicted. After considerable encouragement from his father, Rubino submitted his application the night before regular decision was due. “I knew that I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school that will prepare me for medical school. This whole experience has significantly impacted my desire to enter the medical field,” Rubino explained. After Colby College dropped him when he explained he likely wouldn’t be able to play football for the team, Rubino assumed his competition days were over.

For closure, Rubino was re-tested at the Mayo Clinic, where doctors indicated it was unlikely he would experience further heart issues, passing clots, or strokes. With this reassuring news, Rubino decided to stay highly active and joined the Carleton rugby team. While he loves the sport of rugby, Rubino could not shake the longing to play football again. During the rearranging of the football coaching staff, and after much thought, Rubino approached new head coach Tom Journell and expressed his desire to play. In the spring of Rubino’s freshman year, coach Journell invited him to spring practices, and soon after he was a member of the Carleton varsity football team.

At times, Rubino experiences reservations about his health and competing at the varsity level. “In games, I am more worried about all of the injuries every other person is worried about, like knees and the head. However, I do remember weight lifting during my senior year season and nearly having panic attacks when going into the weight lifting room. Ever since, this feeling has greatly diminished,” said Rubino. He is also on a specialized lifting program that uses calisthenics and light weights to prevent another clot from passing or causing further heart damage.

While playing at a high level always comes with risks, Rubino expressed that “joining this team has been one of the best decisions of my life.” He acknowledged this would be his last chance to play and couldn’t let the opportunity pass. Rubino spoke highly of his teammates saying, “Easily the best part of being on the team is the comradery… every single one of the guys on the team is upstanding and want the best for each other and the team.”

The coaching staff has undergone changes recently, but it is clear they are having a positive impact on the team. “The new coaching staff has brought a lot of wisdom with them,” Rubino said. “The most important coaching for me comes from the defensive coordinator, coach Ben Gray. No matter what situation you find yourself on the field, coach says, ‘put the ball down, it’s about us.’ This philosophy means that you should control the only thing you can control, and that is yourself and your own execution.”

With the season wrapping up soon, Knights football hopes to finish on a high note. Individually, Rubino hopes to “contribute by working on myself in developing consistency in my on-field execution. I want to continue to try and lead by example through the exhibition of good sportsmanship and by buying into the philosophies that the coaches have taught us, and by being a good person off the field.” Rubino acknowledged that there was a lot of doubt, from himself and others, about his health and competing at the varsity level. However, from last spring until now, Rubino believes he has proved he is capable and looks forward to the remainder of his career with the Carleton football team.

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