Surprise Absentee

If there were one member of the Mountaineer football program that you might have expected to be in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, no matter what, you probably would have picked Mike Barwis.

WVU's director of strength and conditioning is a bundle of energy that never seems to stop, take a break or get sick. Rumor has it that he was once in competition with the Energizer Bunny for a battery endorsement deal.

"I'm not much for rest," Barwis said recently. "I work a lot of hours, seven days a week, and I never really stopped."

About midway through the season, Barwis developed a cold, but like every other challenge he faced, he didn't think much of it. He simply lowered his head and charged straight ahead, figuring that that he would beat it into submission.

"The doctors were giving me some medication for it, but I figured I would just work through it and whip it," he said with typical determination. "I figured nothing like a cold was going to stop me."

However, about two days before the end of WVU's Morgantown practices, Barwis took a sudden turn for the worse.

"My temperature went up to about 104 degrees," Barwis related of the quick turn of events. "I still felt like I would just kick it, so I went to practice and did my normal workouts. Afterward, I started getting delirious, so I stopped by Med Express. I had a temperature of 105, and they put me in an ambulance and took me to the hospital."

That's when things really started getting scary.

"The doctors asked me what religion I was, and wanted to know if I wanted last rites, if I had a living will, things like that," Barwis related. "I told them that dying wasn't on my agenda, but that going to a Florida bowl game was."

The doctors, of course, didn't agree. Physicians first believed that Barwis had meningitis, and administered a spinal tap. When that came back negative, they began a series of blood tests, and finally determined that he was suffering from pneumonia, most likely from the result of overwork.

"The doctors spent about four days trying to get my temperature down," Barwis recalled, albeit somewhat fuzzily. "They were packing me in ice, giving me IVs and ibuprofen, the works. I was delirious a lot of the time. My left lung was almost completely full of fluid, and the right lung had fluid in it as well.

"I was waking up every couple of hours, and I lost about 20 pounds," said the ultra-fit Barwis, whose body fat percentage was microscopic to begin with. "It wasn't until the fourth day that I was able to get up and walk a bit and drink and eat a little.

"My mom came down to stay with me, and she was wearing me out. I'd walk 10 feet and start coughing and hacking. Mom's in her late 50s, so that was really getting me ticked off."

Even though Barwis was just a few days removed from a very serious, life-threatening situation, he still had only one thing on his mind – getting to Florida. He was still trying to convince the doctors that he would be o.k. to travel, but after being told that he would still need to remain quiet and calm after being discharged, finally saw the light.

"There was no way I could go to a game and stay calm, so I knew I had better stay at home and watch it on the couch," Barwis admitted with a laugh. "Even then, I wasn't to calm – I was up off the coach a few times yelling at the TV.

"It was really tough to try to stay calm through the whole thing," he continued. "It's probably a good thing that I was delirious with the high fever, because I wasn't aware of the time passing. Just sitting here now is driving me nuts. I had my heart set on going to the game, but I figured it was in my best interest to stay here."

Barwis is beginning to get some of his strength back, but he believes he has learned a valuable lesson.

"I'm back on my feet and walking around a bit now, and I'll be back at it soon. I want to be ready for winter conditioning if I can.

"If there's one thing I learned from this, it's that no one is invincible. You can push and push and think you are invincible, but you're not. I still think I'm pretty close, but maybe that was God's way of showing you that you are not.

"That was one thing that was funny to the people at the hospital. They pointed out that in all the programs I design for the kids, I have plenty of rest and recovery time built in, but that I didn't allow any for myself. I thought I was a different animal, and I just pushed myself all the time. I pushed the envelope, and maybe I just pushed it a little to far. The doctors think I developed the pneumonia from overwork and overexertion and not getting any rest. In the end, it just broke down my immune system."

In addition to finally finding a limit and learning that he has to take a break for himself on occasion, Barwis was also overwhelmed with the amount of support he received from the Mountaineer family.

"I bet at least half of the football team called me from Florida, and that's something I value," an appreciative Barwis said. "Every one of the coaches called me. Kids were calling me and telling me not to come down and get worse. There was just so much concern for me. It was overwhelming. My phone rang so much I don't know if I rested like I should have! I even got some calls from guys I don't even know, and who didn't know me. They just wanted to tell me to get better and that they were thinking about me.

"That's very humbling, and that's one of the things I'll remember the most. I want to make sure everyone knows how much I appreciate their support."

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