For Brad Blank, the unknown was the worst part.
"It was a case where it was better to have the enemy you knew than the enemy you didn't know," the Hebron junior said. "It was getting very scary."
A promising distance runner, Blank was a mile into his second prep cross country race at Dowling Park in August 2011 when he mysteriously broke down and couldn't continue.
"Everything was going out," Mike DeFries, Hebron's boys track and cross country coach, recalled. "I had no idea. We thought he was sick. It just looked weird, like a kid who couldn't use his legs right."
Blank tried to come back in other races, but his body said no. The family consulted their doctor and a neurologist. Blank underwent a series of tests that turned up inconclusive. Months passed. It wasn't until after track school, when Blank went to the Cleveland Clinic, that he was diagnosed with CPT2 (Carnitine palmitoyltransferase II) deficiency, a rare genetic condition in which the body lacks the enzyme to break down lactic acid in muscles.
"It's very rarely diagnosed," he said. "It only comes into play when you have long periods of intense stress on your muscles. You may have it and not realize it because you don't push yourself to the point where symptoms appear. Instead of getting tired to the point where you don't want to move, you just can't move."
While fears of a more dire result were allayed, Blank faced the reality that his distance running career was done.
"It was very disheartening," he said. "I had big expectations coming into high school. To be so good, then to drop off the table, you feel powerless to do anything about it. All I could see was I wasn't able to run."
As a sophomore, Blank channeled his energies into lifting weights, but ultimately learned that the workouts, while making him stronger, actually exacerbated his condition.
"He was running great, then went off the deep end," DeFries said. "He ran a couple times, he would tighten up and he was done. He could jump. That was about it."
Blank qualified for the regional with a leap of 6 feet, 1 inch.
This school year, he has played volleyball, soccer and basketball. With a new training routine in place, he's had no recurrences.
"High protein, lots of water, keep my potassium levels high," Blank said. "It wasn't too radical of a change. Most of it was basic runner things I was doing anyway. The biggest change was just the way I practiced. There were certain workouts I couldn't do. The coaches are great about accommodating that."
As Hebron's season begins, the plan is to run Blank regularly in the 200 meters and 400 with an occasional 800, as well as the high jump.
"I noticed in basketball that he looked really fast, so I thought we'd have him try to do some sprinting," DeFries said. "He looks really strong. He may do a couple races with the middle-distance guys, but he won't do any of the mileage."
For Blank, it's now all a matter of looking ahead.
"Sports has always been so much a part of the school experience, quitting a sport was never really an option, unless it was absolutely required," he said. "I'm very excited for the season, for my success and the team. They've been supportive throughout my career. I'm very optimistic about the high jump. The running, I'll see what happens, work hard and hope for the results."
While cross country is something Blank can only wonder about, he may have found that same group bond in track.
"Cross country was kind of his thing and he really missed being a part of that family," DeFries said. "We have a real close-knit team and I've tried to do the same thing with track. He's a leader and it's something I think he's really enjoyed."