Some losses are harder than others. Former Nation Ford boys’ soccer coach Jon Jarrett knows that all too well.
Jarrett and the Falcons lost the 5A state championship game last May to Wando 2-1. For Jarrett it was harder to deal because of the uncertainty his future now holds. That loss may have been the last game Jarrett ever coaches.
“It was a high character team,” he said. “It was a crazy run to get there and it was excruciating losing that game. That group of guys worked so hard and were so cohesive. Knowing that could be my last game coaching high school soccer, it was a moment I will never forget for sure. It was a life defining moment.”
Then, in November 2018, Jarrett, 47, was diagnosed with Myalgia encephalomyelitis (ME), a disease he has had for the past seven years, but struggled to come to terms with it until he knew for sure.
Jarrett said he knew all to well what he had, based on his symptoms and what he had seen his brother, Tom, go through. Tom eventually died.
The disease, once called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is more than the stereotype of always being tired. According to the Journal of Internal Medicine, ME is a “complex disease involving the central nervous system and immune system,” which disrupts cells when it comes to energy and causes cardiovascular, physical and cognitive abnormalities.
The disease is hereditary.
Jarrett said he wasn’t born with the disease, but his family has a specific gene type that triggers the disease.
“It is hereditary in that you have a propensity to have it, but not hereditary that you will necessarily have it,” Jarrett said. “So, it can be triggered.”
Jon said his brother, Tom, had his disease triggered from prolonged exposure to black mold.
“It completely messed up his respiratory system and he had the genetic disposition for this, so it triggered it, so after eight years of having this he progressively declined and he ended up passing away at 38 from this,” Jarrett said. “The last two years of his life he was bedridden and couldn’t even stand up.”
What’s wrong with me?
Jarrett said the onset of his disease started seven years ago when he had shingles. He said the first symptom he noticed was his inability to exercise.
“That is the number one side effect with ME that is different than any other illness,” he said. “I started peeling back on how much I worked out and I managed it well without even knowing it for several years.”
He said when he works out and his heart rate gets too high, in his case above 100 beats a minute, his body doesn’t allow enough oxygen to get to his brain and muscles.
“If my heart rate gets above 100 it has a negative effect on me and typically puts me in a crash,” he said.
Jarrett said for him a crash usually means he is unable to get out of bed the next day. As the years passed, ME symptoms have popped up at different times. Jarrett said each time his body went down a path he didn’t want to go.
Three years ago, he got strep throat which triggered another level of ME causing him to start not sleeping.
“I would see every hour of the clock every night for four months,” he said. “I was constantly tired and knew I couldn’t work out. In the back of my head, I knew it was ME, but I didn’t want to face that because of my brother.”
Jarrett said he went to doctors who told him he was fine. He tried holistic doctors for 18 months. Nothing worked.
He said doctors prescribed sleeping medicine but that allowed him to sleep only four or five hours a night, and he still didn’t have energy.
“It has been three years since I have had a day since I feel like I have energy,” he said. “I haven’t had a day where I feel normal. There is no normal for me anymore.”
Still he continued to coach Nation Ford boys’ soccer team.
He tried to rest up before practices, but even the stress of coaching started taking its toll.
“My body doesn’t process stress well,” he said. “It is horrible for my body.”
As games got stressful, Jarrett noticed his heart rate getting above 100 more regularly on the sidelines.
He said he tried sitting down, but the stress of the game still was too much. And that would push him to later have a crash.
“The hardest part for me was that night trying to get my mind to shut off,” he said. “I would replay it in my head and watch the film that night. That is part of the illness, in that your mind can’t shutoff and when you have all that stimulus to your mind, even if it is exciting, the mind goes even faster and harder.”
Jarrett realized he would have to give up coaching.
When he was hired to be the Falcons head coach, he said beside the joy he gets from his family, “it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
“After last soccer season, it was really setting in,” he said. “I was super tired and would have to lay down before practice and the bus trips were really rough. My mind couldn’t shut off. It couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stand through the games to coach anymore. The heat and humidity really bothered me.”
Jarrett had at that point been head boys’ soccer coach for four years.
He asked Nation Ford principal Jason Johns if he could take a year’s sabbatical, handing the team over to assistant coach Kenny Halas.
“Jason is a great guy,” Jarrett said. “I have loved coaching for Nation Ford. It has been a dream of mine for years. I know Kenny is a great coach and the plan is to come back after a year if I can still get healthy. The team is in great hands. I have full confidence in Coach Halas and the coaching staff and Kenny is a great friend of mine.”
Jarrett’s wife, Sharon, said she sees how not being involved with the team has impacted her husband.
“He was so into the kids and everything that goes into coaching teenagers,” she said. “If they would get in trouble at school or something, they would go to him.”
Johns said Jarrett has been more than a soccer coach.
“Coach Jarrett is an absolutely model of integrity,” Johns said. “He believes in the long game, in that it is more important to him that his players become young men of character, work ethic, and compassion than just win soccer matches. Jon has an infectious positive attitude that will only be a strength as he battles his recent illness. God had used Coach Jarrett to impact the lives of countless young people. His example of faithfulness as he undergoes this recent health challenge will be a further example of the inner strength and peace his faith provides him.”
Jarrett was officially diagnosed with ME last year after hearing about the Hunter Hopkins Center in Charlotte, one of the countries leading centers for those with chronic fatigue illnesses.
“There was a lot of tears but there was a lot of relief too,” he said. “Because I have been piecing together what it is and what I had. I went several years spending money not knowing what I had. And doctors would say you are fine. But I am not fine. I don’t ever feel good. I am not one to sit there and do nothing. This for me was like a whole new game, since I know what I have.”
There is no known cure for ME. Jarrett said he takes about 10 supplements a day to boost his immune system, to help fight off symptoms and help him try to live as comfortably as possible.
What is next?
The door is open for Jarrett to return to coaching Nation Ford next year.
“I will never be the same as I was before unless they find a cure,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of people with ME are completely bedridden, like my brother. It is hell on earth. The next level is 50 percent in the middle which has symptoms, but still being able to do some function of life and then the upper 25 percent that can still work and have a normal life if you will, but the symptoms are always lurking.”
Jarrett worries about two things.
The first is obvious. Will he will end up like his brother?
Jarrett said he didn’t understand what his brother was going through. He said he regrets how he judged things regarding his brother’s struggles.
“It was absolute torture watching my brother who was an absolute healthy 30-year-old go to a completely bedridden 38-year-old...,” he said. “My doctor said it doesn’t have to happen because my brother had an extreme case..., but just watching him and knowing I have the same illness, it is an eyeopener.”
Jarrett’s other fear is just as intense to him.
“It is a huge fear of mine that I will not ever be able to coach again,” he said. “I am trying to find out my purpose in life. If I can’t coach then I am trying to figure out what to do. I have six kids so I still have to be the best father and husband I can, but as far as a contribution to society, coaching is what I always wanted to do. Will I be able to coach again? That is my prayer. The bottom line is I got to get to a point of repair and healing.... I am not mad at God, but my question for God, is I thought the number one thing you blessed me with here on earth was my impact on youth and teenagers, and if I can’t do that in this way that I have done for 27 years, than what is next for me? ... I want more than anything to get back into coaching and be at Nation Ford.”