Close call with calamity
Volleyball champ survives health scare
No one would ever accuse Fred McConnell of being a couch potato.
At 70, the program head and professor of engineering at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) is slim and fit, and plays volleyball three nights a week or more.
So McConnell was not too alarmed at first when his heartburn wouldn't go away.
Even after two months, when the chest discomfort did not respond to medication and his doctor recommended a stress test, McConnell shrugged it off.
"I just had a stress test a couple of years ago," he told his doctor -- who checked his records and countered, "No, it's been seven."
In those seven years, said McConnell, stress tests have changed considerably. His 2005 test was conducted on a treadmill with the physician in the room, monitoring his reaction to exertion.
The 2005 diagnosis? Chronic heartburn.
This time, his stress test was the nuclear version, in which a radioactive dye is injected into the bloodstream to help create images of the heart muscle and valves at work. The pictures showed that one of McConnell's heart chambers wasn't filling up as it should, and he was referred to a cardiologist for a heart catheterization.
Still relatively unfazed, McConnell scheduled the catheterization -- then rescheduled it a week later so that he could play in a volleyball tournament first.
"I was afraid they'd find something," he admits now. And find something they did.
‘A real mess’
"I was only half awake," said McConnell, as he recalls coming out of the anesthesia after the catheterization. "But I remember the doctor telling me, 'You have a real mess in there.'"
Later, the cardiologist told McConnell he was surprised he had never had a heart attack -- though he saw signs that there may have been one of the "silent" variety.
McConnell consulted with a surgeon, who drew pictures of the three blockages and scheduled him for surgery two weeks later. Since McConnell was on spring break at the time, he asked the surgeon if it was okay to go back to work.
"That depends," answered the doctor. "Is your job stressful?"
McConnell chuckles as he recalls his answer.
"Not for me -- but maybe for my students!"
Finding a substitute to take over at JSRCC for the rest of the semester, McConnell underwent surgery on March 27. During the operation, a fourth blockage was found.
Nine weeks after his quadruple bypass surgery, McConnell traveled to Salt Lake City and won both silver and bronze medals at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships.
Rum and medals
More than 430 teams from around the world competed in the June championships.
A long-time member of the Richmond Volleyball Club, McConnell earned his silver medal as a member of the GROG-65 Team (pictured above) in one session, and his bronze medal in another session as a member of Team SOTA-70.
Team GROG, he says, takes its name from the acronym for "Greater Richmond Old Guys," but the name hardly fits any more. In addition to the Richmond players, McConnell has GROG teammates hailing from Texas, Colorado and Arkansas.
"Grog also was a rum drink for the British Navy," he adds, "so our uniforms have a rum bottle logo."
Last October, he won a gold medal in the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, on a 65's team that was a blend of RVC and Canadian players. In a couple of weeks, he will head to Utah for this year's Huntsman tournament, and he looks forward to it.
"The weather in Utah is beautiful this time of year," says McConnell. "And it's a well-run tournament -- like a mini-Olympics."
‘A second home’
A native of Gate City, Va., McConnell began playing intramural volleyball when he was a student at Virginia Tech. (The loyal Hokie and season ticket holder is actually a "triple dipper," having gotten his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in civil engineering at Tech.) During grad school, he says, "we would get the gym for an hour and play volleyball instead of basketball. The faculty was really into volleyball."
Moving to Richmond in 1972 to teach at the newly-opened JSRCC, following stints at Germana and Wytheville community colleges, McConnell was invited to play in volleyball leagues that eventually formed the basis of RVC (established in 1980).
"Now it's a second home," the Glen Allen resident says of RVC.
At his other second home, JSRCC, McConnell enjoys frequent visits and contacts from former students -- who, he says with a chuckle, "are often shocked to see I'm still teaching."
His daughter, a freshman at Christopher Newport University, recently told him that she had seen his reviews online on "Rate Your Professor" and noted that the only bad rating he got was for giving too much work.
"But I've never had a student come back and say, 'You worked me too hard,'" says McConnell.
"They say, 'Thank you for kicking my butt. I wouldn't have made it at [the four-year institution attended] if you hadn't."
Not long ago, in fact, McConnell says he got an email from a 1981 graduate of JSRCC who went on to get his bachelor's degree and professional engineer license at other schools.
"He said JSRCC was the best school he attended," recalls McConnell, "with the best professors."
At an age when most people have long ago retired, McConnell has no immediate plans to stop working -- or to stop playing volleyball. In fact, he not only goes to rehab once a week, but also frequently works out on the treadmill at Shady Grove YMCA.
"I don't sit around much. I have to [stay in shape] if I'm going to be competitive," he says.
After competing in the USA Open National Championships every year for 23 years, McConnell says he can't single out any one year as his most memorable -- but admits the 2012 Open is likely to stand out in his memory in years to come.
"Any time you get to the medal stand, that's an accomplishment on its own. But nine weeks after heart surgery?" he exclaims, making it clear that his close call with calamity renders the accomplishment all the sweeter.
And McConnell has a word of advice for anyone suffering from what seems to be chronic heartburn.
"If it doesn't go away, see your doctor," he says emphatically. "Especially if you're not active."
With a nod to Arbor Day, Citizen seeks photos, descriptions of significant Henrico trees
Citizen Staff Reports 04/28/2015
Do you have a favorite tree in Henrico?
Do you know of a tree with an interesting story?
Do you live near an especially large, old, or otherwise unusual tree – or do you pass by one that has always intrigued you?
Arbor Day 2015 (April 24) was last week, and though the Citizen has published stories about a few special trees over the years (see sidebar) we know that our readers can lead us to more. > Read more.
Henrico's most famous tree, known as the Surrender Tree, still stood for more than a century near the intersection of Osborne Turnpike and New Market Road -- until June 2012.
It was in the shade of that tree on April 3, 1865, that Richmond mayor Joseph Mayo met Major Atherton Stevens and troops from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and handed over a note surrendering the city to Federal troops. Evacuation had already begun. > Read more.
The Greater Richmond ARC's annual Ladybug Wine Tasting and Silent Auction on April 11 netted $75,165 to benefit its Infant and Child Development Services (ICDS) program.
About 350 guests sampled fine West Coast wines and craft beer from Midnight Brewery at Richmond Raceway Complex's Torque Club, along with food from local eateries. Carytown Cupcakes provided dessert. > Read more.
In the mood for some spring shopping? Eastern Henrico FISH will hold their semi-annual yard sale this weekend – funds raised assist at-risk families in Eastern Henrico County. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will hold a spring plant sale which is among the largest in the region with more than 40 vendors selling plants ranging from well-known favorites to rare exotics. Put on your detective hat and find out “whodunnit” at the movie “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “The Case of the Dead Flamingo Dancer,” presented by the Henrico Theatre Company May 1-17. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
It’s that time of year – charity races are popping up everywhere! On Saturday, St. Joseph’s Villa will be the site of the sixth annual CASA Superhero Run and the fifth annual Richmond Free to Breathe Run/Walk will be held in Innsbrook. Also in Innsbrook, the 2015 Richmond Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis will take place on Sunday. If you’re more into relaxation than exercise, check out Wine for Cure’s Dogwood Wine Festival or the Troubadours Community Theatre Group’s production of “West Side Story” at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
There are several fun events this weekend taking place outside including the third annual Virginia Firefighter Games at Short Pump Town Center; Twin Hickory Park’s “April Showers: A Celebration of Spring” event; the Young Life Richmond West 5k in Innsbrook; and the Gold Festival on Broad which benefits Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. Fingers crossed for no rain! For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
- More News
Apr. 16, 2015Click here to read the print edition.
- More Entertainment
- More Obituaries
- More Community
- More Opinions
- More Sports
ClassifiedsDONATE YOUR CAR, TRUCK OR BOAT TO HERITAGE FOR THE BLIND. Free 3 Day Vacation, Tax Deductible, Free Towing, All Paperwork Taken Care Of. 888-617-1682
CalendarThe Henrico Business Leaders’ Networking Breakfast Meeting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at The Westin Richmond. The speaker will be Nicole Anderson Ellis from the Route… Full text