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Brazoswood grad overcomes heart problems to try out for Paris Olympics

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin

Basketball was Sam Whitmarsh’s passion. So much so that he looked for another sport to play during basketball’s off-season, just so he could stay in shape.

But something happened on the way to the court. He liked track … and, by his own admission, he was much better at running than shooting.

He made what turned out to be the right decision: He stayed with track.

The Texas A&M athlete who calls Lake Jackson home and graduated from Brazoswood High School in 2021 has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 800-meter race. The trials will be held from June 21 through June 30 in Eugene, Oregon.

The top three finishers in the trials earn a spot on the team that will represent the United States at the Paris Olympics.

Sam would not have believed it if you told him early in his running career that he would someday be going to the Olympic Trials.

“It wasn’t until a friend suggested I should switch from the 400m race to the 800m that I found my place,” Sam says.

The 800m race is challenging, requiring runners to have the endurance to run at a fast pace and still have enough left to sprint to the finish line.  

Sam’s climb into such a lofty place among middle-distance runners is made even more impressive by the fact he ran in high school knowing he had a heart condition that produced episodes of rapid heartbeat.

Sam had his first episode at age nine and estimates he would average two episodes a week.

Sam’s parents scoured the area looking for a diagnosis.  Doctor after doctor could not pinpoint the problem, but they did not think the condition was serious, whatever it was.

Sam says the heart condition was on his mind as he ran, particularly in cross-country races, which seemed to trigger the episodes more frequently.

“I tried to dismiss it as much as I could,” Sam says.

Despite his heart condition, Sam compiled a remarkable record at Brazoswood under Richard Sincere, his coach and now head football coach at Brazosport High School.

Sam has a simple answer when asked what Sincere did for him: “He believed in me.”

Sam won the UIL 6A state title in the 800m as a sophomore, and at one point, won five races in a row before an injury ended the streak. He lettered all four years in track and three years in cross country.

He holds the Brazoswood record for both the 800m and 400m and was the No. 2-rated runner coming out of Texas high schools.

Early in his A&M career he got what Sam calls a lucky break: He came down with Covid.

As part of the Covid protocol, Sam and other athletes were tested.

Sam got a phone call from a doctor telling him there was a problem with his heart.

As fortune would have it, the doctor was in Bryan and was a specialist in the type of problem Sam was having.

Sam would lose part of the 2022 season, but at least now he had a diagnosis.

“It just goes to show that there is a reason for everything,” Sam says.

Sam, was told he had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. WPWS is a condition in which an extra pathway appears between the heart’s upper and lower chambers, causing the rapid heartbeats. There are only about 20,000 cases of the syndrome each year in the U.S.

Sam had heart surgery in January of 2022 and then started training again about a month later. But after an attention-grabbing second-place finish at the SEC Championship, WSPS struck again. This time the episode lasted an hour.

Doctors performed a second surgery, and Sam has not had another episode.

Not surprisingly, he believes overcoming WPWS has contributed to faster times on the track.

Sam, who is set to graduate from A&M in December 2025, not only can train better, but he can now run with peace of mind. 


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