VALPARAISO | Tommy Kurth literally sacrificed his body to be part of the Valparaiso men’s basketball team and it ultimately cost him his career.
After two major surgeries over the last three years, Kurth was deemed medically unable to perform hours before the Crusaders officially began practice for the 2012-13 season on Friday afternoon.
The Penn product will remain on scholarship until he graduates in December 2013, but will not count towards Valparaiso’s scholarship limit.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling right now,” Kurth said. “I’m very competitive and it’s hard to see the guys out there getting ready for the season and I can’t be out there. This isn’t a decision that’s been made quickly; a lot has gone into this.”
The medical problems began for Kurth almost as quickly as the Osceola native arrived on campus in 2009. As a freshman, Kurth worked his way into the starting lineup, starting 23 of the last 24 games, but he endured tremendous foot pain during the season. The fifth toe (baby toe) on each foot rubbed against his shoes. The only way for the pain to go away was for the toes to go away.
Kurth had surgery in March of 2010 to amputate three-quarters of each baby toe in order to alleviate the pain. When his recovery process was slowed, Kurth and the coaching staff made the mutual decision to take a medical redshirt during his sophomore season.
When the Crusaders began workouts prior to last season, an unexpected medical ailment sent the then-academic junior, his family and the coaching staff in search of answers.
“I went on antibiotics after the surgery on my toes and that triggered a chemical imbalance in my stomach,” Kurth said. “To put it plainly, my stomach was pushed up into my esophagus.”
Kurth suffered a hiatal hernia that became apparent during workouts. Whenever he would participate in strenuous activity on the practice court, it would result in his head being buried in a garbage can, relentlessly vomiting.
“We did what we could to keep this under wraps, just trying to figure out what it was,” Kurth said. “By August it was becoming an everyday thing. I was vomiting all night long. Everything just became a domino effect.”
Kurth spent much of last season traveling to the IU Medical Center looking for answers while trying to balance school work and still contribute to the team. He played double-digit minutes on five occasions, including 30 minutes against IU-Kokomo on Nov. 19. As the season progressed, so did his condition and he played a total of four minutes in two games in the second half of the season.
When it was apparent that Kurth wouldn’t be able to continue to play basketball in his current state, he made the decision for a major surgery that happened nearly two years after his toe surgery. Kurth underwent fundoplication, a surgery that wrapped his stomach around the bottom of his esophagus.
“I was on a liquid diet for a month,” Kurth said. “It was liquid and then mashed potatoes for a long time. I had to reteach myself how to swallow. I didn’t really think about the basketball. I was more concerned with figuring out how to eat a meal.”
With the surgery behind him, the life-long athlete made an attempt to get back into basketball shape, but it was for naught. Kurth is still teaching himself how to swallow, and the fear of constant vomiting is enough of a sign to hang up the uniform, but that doesn’t mean the decision was easy.
“I just don’t know,” Kurth said when asked if he could ever play sports again. “I’m just worried about other stuff right now. I’m being very cautious with all of this.”
While Kurth is no longer a member of the roster and he won’t have a banner hanging in the Athletics-Recreation Center, Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew is looking forward to having Kurth around the program during this season.
“Tommy has been such a positive asset to this program over the years and he will continue to be,” Drew said. “We will definitely enjoy having Tommy with us and helping out our program. He’s still a member of our family.”