Mercer Island swimmer Carter Whipple was set to be one of the captains for the swim and dive team, but after coming home from the first day of school not feeling well, the senior knew something was off.
Whipple’s heart rate was much higher than normal and was he was unable to get out of bed most days.
“I had never felt like this before, it was a different feeling than the flu or a cold,” Whipple said. “It was an entirely different feeling. It would keep me up at night. I had trouble sleeping because my heart was moving so fast.”
For two months, Whipple saw multiple doctors and went through numerous tests to try to find out what was wrong. All the X-rays, blood tests and scans came back normal, but his symptoms kept getting worse.
Finally, Whipple was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a blood-flow disorder. When he stands up, most of his blood remains in the lower part of his body. His heart rate goes up as his heart pumps faster to move the blood to the rest of his body. This results in Whipple having trouble breathing, feeling dizzy, tired and causes him to feel like he’s about to pass out.
“When I was trying to figure out what was wrong, a bunch of doctors told me, ‘It’s nothing’ or, ‘It’s OK,’” Whipple said. “It’s a real thing and it’s serious. You can’t tell from looking at someone if they have it. There are ways to fix it and overcome it.”
While POTS is a common disorder, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose. Whipple said he wants to spread more awareness about POTS. He said he wants people to know that what they’re feeling is real and not in their head. “You know yourself better than anyone else,” Whipple said. “If something is really wrong, you can tell. Don’t give up and keep fighting until you figure out what’s wrong.”
After months of not knowing what was wrong, Whipple said it was a relief to get a diagnosis, but it was also discouraging.
“There’s not a simple cure and no way to get right back to 100 percent normal,” Whipple said. “I knew it would take a lot of work and a lot of time. I had to mentally prepare myself for that.”
Since being diagnosed and taking medication, Whipple said his symptoms have gotten much better.
In early December, Whipple got back in the pool and slowly started to train in hopes that he could compete with the team in his senior season.
“It took a lot of time and motivation,” Whipple said. “I would see all my friends and teammates swimming and it was discouraging because I knew I had the mental willpower to do it, but my body physically can’t do it.”
As his symptoms improved, Whipple worked hard to get ready in time for the final regular season meet against Skyline on Jan. 30.
On the day of the meet, Whipple said he was feeling sick, which made his symptoms worse.
“I was a little bit worried during school that I wasn’t going to be able to swim,” Whipple said. “I told myself, ‘This might be your last time ever swimming for the high school team, so just do it and see what happens’.”
In front of his friends, family and teammates, Whipple swam in the 200-yard medley relay, finishing just one-second off of his best time. “It was a really good feeling, because I had finally gotten something in return for all of my work,” Whipple said.
Whipple’s swim also helped him qualify for the KingCo league championships.
“When I first got diagnosed, I felt horrible,” Whipple said. “I thought there was no way I could even think about getting back in the pool and being part of the team. Being able to do that showed me that whatever happens, if I work as hard as I can, almost anything is possible.”
Next fall, Whipple will be attending Chapman University in California where he hopes to swim.