Local rower turns his pain into team’s gain

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 11, 2014
Courtesy of: Griff Overturf Haydon Overturf, who has a Chiari malformation that causes headaches, third rower from left, rows with the Green Lake Varsity 8 team at the U.S. Rowing Junior Northwest Regional Championships. He turned to rowing when his doctor told him to give up contact sports.

A Mukilteo rower who was forced to quit contact sports has turned a newfound love of rowing into a run at nationals.

Haydon Overturf, 18, will compete with the Green Lake Varsity 8 at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships June 14-15 in Sacramento, Calif.

He was forced to give up the contact sports he loved – football, basketball, soccer and wrestling – after he got a second concussion.

It was the first concussion that led a doctor to find the cause of headaches that set in when he was in seventh grade.

Overturf got a concussion while wrestling at Harbour Pointe Middle School after he was thrown on his head during a practice match. After that, his headaches went from occasional to every day.

His doctor ordered CT and MRI scans, which showed his pain was due to a congenital malformation.

Overturf was diagnosed with Chiari malformation type I, where part of the brain is pushed down into the spinal canal because the skull is too small or misshapen. His was the worst his doctor had ever seen.

He has had surgery to remove a portion of the CI vertebrae to reduce pressure on the brain and allow spinal fluid to flow freely. It helped, but he still has to deal with daily headaches.

Overturf missed most of seventh and eighth grade due to headaches, which could get so bad that he would be stuck in bed.

“They were a 9 or a 10 pretty much every day,” he said, explaining his pain on a scale of 1-10. “After the surgery, they are more like a 2 or a 3, but it will spike every now and then.

“It’s like a knife at the back of my head.”

When his doctor told him it was best if he stay away from contact sports, Overturf was crushed.

“It was awful,” Overturf said. “That was my life. Every day I had football practice or basketball practice, and then I’d go to soccer right after. I just loved it all.”

He tried playing golf, but he missed the team aspect of sports. Then a friend suggested he try rowing.

“This was a blessing,” said Griff Overturf, his dad. “He fell in love with the sport. It’s given him a strong support group and taught him a lot about becoming a leader.”

His doctor told him that he went from playing contact sports to the toughest, most-demanding non-contact sport there is.

At 195 pounds and 6-feet-1-inch tall, Overturf worked his way onto the Varsity 8 boat and was named co-captain of the men’s team this year.

He has been rowing with Green Lake Crew for three years. He started with the novice boat and made it into the varsity boat his second year. It was then that he set the goal to row in college.

“Haydon was very driven,” Griff Overturf said. “He knew what he wanted.”

He fell in love with rowing his very first day of practice – and he didn’t even get in the water.

“I remember running five sets of stairs and barely able to complete that,” he said. "After that, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’

“Now, we do 20 sets of stairs with a 40-pound sandbag on our shoulders [to warm up] and so doing five is nothing, but back then I thought it was the hardest thing ever. I definitely like a challenge.”

After losing most of their races in 2013, the Green Lake Varsity 8 went into this season with the determination to win. The team is undefeated so far.

His boat won the U.S. Rowing Junior Northwest Regional Championships May 16-18 in Vancouver, Wash. They won the race in six minutes and 10 seconds, beating Sammamish.

This is the first time in four years that Green Lake Varsity 8 has gone to nationals.

“It’s amazing to be able to go undefeated and finally bring home the varsity 8 trophy back to Green Lake," Overturf said. "It was a really big deal for us to win that race.”

Rowing coach Ed Maxwell said Overturf has played a part in Green Lake's comeback as one of the top ranking teams in the region.

“He’s one of the better guys on the team, skill wise and strength wise,” Maxwell said. “He’s someone who leads by example."

At the start of the regionals race, Sammamish was ahead of Green Lake and kept the lead – until the 1,000-meter mark.

“Normally, we’re ahead of everyone, so for them to be ahead really made us nervous, but that also made us pull harder because we knew we weren’t going to settle for second,” Overturf said.

After that, Greenlake moved up to about four seats on Sammamish. At the sprint, the team finished six seats ahead.

“That was the closest margin we’ve ever had between those boats,” Overturf said.

The team again has the finish line in mind. At a recent practice, preparing for nationals, the varsity 8 broke Green Lake’s record for a lap around the lake by four seconds, at 9 minutes and 24 seconds.

“As a parent, your children bring you so many positive emotions, but I did not expect inspiration,” Griff Overturf said. “I have been inspired by Haydon and what he has accomplished.”

Overturf, who just graduated from Kamiak High School, will now row for the University of Washington team.

“Some things aren't just meant to be,” he said. “God has a path for me and, obviously, contact sports is not part of it. Now that I have rowing, I feel like I may be on the right path.

“So I will push myself to work harder and harder, and find out what I really have inside.”

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