A year ago, before Reservoir completed a magical 18-1 campaign that concluded as Class 3A state champions, outside hitter Maddie Beckett thought her volleyball career was over.
Shortly before starting middle school, Beckett, now a senior with the Gators, was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, an irregularly fast or erratic heartbeat that affects the heart’s upper chambers, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When she was younger, her SVT episodes were random and not spurred by physical activity. But as she got older, Beckett began noticing that the symptoms, which can include chest pain and feeling lightheaded, happened more frequently while playing volleyball. Her episodes, during which the heart can beat about 150 to 220 times a minute, much faster than the typical rate between 60 and 100 BPM, can also be triggered by jumping, an essential part of her job on the volleyball court.
During tryouts last season, her doctor recommended that she follow up with her cardiologist. It was during that visit that Beckett thought her volleyball career was over.
“I had a lot of emotions rushing through my head,” she said. “At that point, it was a very confusing time. I actually had to leave the room to go and cry in the bathroom because it was such a shock to me. I wasn’t expecting to be told that I had to stop playing.”
After further discussions, her cardiologist suggested that Beckett stop playing until the SVT was under control. He also recommended that Beckett see another cardiologist at Johns Hopkins who specializes in treating SVT.
“I knew she was heartbroken by the news and I was heartbroken for her, too,” Virginia Beckett, Maddie’s mother, said. “At the same time, I knew this was bigger than playing a sport. This was really about her health and her well-being. The most important thing at that point was that we just pursue the avenues necessary to give her the treatment she needed.”
Beckett was presented with two potential treatment options. The first was an ablation procedure in which the area of the heart that causes the arrhythmia is destroyed. The second was getting started on a beta-blocker medication designed to regulate her heart rate.
An ablation procedure would have required her to miss a substantial amount of last season. Ultimately, Beckett and her family decided taking the medication would be the best course of action.
“We had to balance being reassuring because we wanted to reassure Maddie that she’d have the opportunity to play again,” William Beckett, Maddie’s father, said. “Also, we wanted to weigh the seriousness of the condition. It was a delicate balance really to try to make her feel better, yet also help her understand the risk.”
Beckett returned to the court about a week later, bringing with it a sense of relief. Reflecting back on that time, Beckett feels a heightened sense of appreciation each time she steps on the court with her teammates as an integral part of one of the top volleyball teams in Maryland.
“I actually was thinking back about it a couple weeks ago, but this time last year I was going through one of the scariest times in my life,” Beckett said. “Now I’m here and get to spend my senior season on the court. It was very surreal to me. I remember being so scared last year and then now looking back I feel at peace where I am right now.
“I’m excited and happy. Being on the court is my happy place. I’m very grateful that I was able to find a solution and that I’m able to work through it and that Coach [Carole] Ferrante has been by my side and is very understanding of my condition and offers a lot of help to support me.”
While the episodes aren’t behind her — she experienced one during a scrimmage against Holy Cross in the preseason, quickly alerted Ferrante and took a break on the bench — she knows how to take care of herself when they arise. With Beckett in the fold, the Gators are off to a 4-1 start and ranked No. 3 in the latest Baltimore Sun poll.
“What I think is so great about how Maddie handles herself through the adversity is she’s also very strong to take care of herself too,” Ferrante said. “She’s not trying to play through it if something’s going on. She’s very aware of her situation and she’s very astute in making sure that she advocates for herself.
“Then she comes out here and gives everything she has. We’re just really grateful that’s what she’s giving her team because it would be really easy to say, ‘Oh I don’t know if I can do this or be afraid of it.’ I love the way she’s just taking it head-on and saying, ‘I still want to do this and I still want to play,’ and now she’s even talking about possibly playing in college. I’m proud of her for that, some kids would cave to it; she’s taking it head-on.”