LIFE AND LACROSSE
by John D. Hubbard
Eric Freedman 98 is dizzy and a step behind. Reading even a few articles on the sports page sends him reeling and walking up stairs leaves him winded.
For this scholar/athlete it is a perplexing reality.
The Red Raider lacrosse player and tri-captain took a big hit in this seasons home opener against Stony Brook, but Colgate won the game in overtime and Freedman dismissed the wooziness he felt to celebrate with his family.
Freedman hails from nearby Skaneateles, where lacrosse is not only a passion but can be a spiritual metaphor for life. Cut as a sophomore, Freedman was injured lifting weights, scuttling his junior year. He then spent a year in Denmark as an exchange student before finally playing for the high school team as a senior.
Recruited largely on what he had shown at summer camps, Freedman rebuffed the Division I feelers to follow his father and brother to Hamilton College. He led the team in scoring as a freshman (he had been eighth on the Skaneateles team) but wasnt happy with the winds of change blowing across the hill.
Weighing his options, Freedman discovered lacrosse opened some doors and at Colgate found an appealing balance of academics and athletics. He was able to play as a sophomore and made a contribution, despite the added transition of switching from attack to midfield.
The season wasnt without its bumps. Freedman caught a "buddy" pass and got hammered in the process. The resulting back contusion and later an ankle sprain kept him out of several games. As he always had, Freedman worked hard at his rehab and managed to come back.
As a junior, Freedman put together a solid season, with 10 goals and 12 assists. He was fully a part of life at Colgate. He did well in the classroom ("I have a 3.56 overall and a 3.7 in economics, my major. Those are my other stats, I guess"), was accepted by a fraternity and had the respect of his teammates, who voted him a tri-captain.
"Eric has always struck me as a responsible and conscientious young man," says head coach Dan Whalen. "Hes very aware and very sensitive of those around him, but also very determined."
Anticipation was keen and expectations high for this season. In the fall, with many of the veteran players away with a study group, freshmen and sophomores got plenty of opportunities during the six weeks of formal practice sessions. And in January the balance of the team returned from Australia in great shape. The artificial surface at Tylers Field allowed the Red Raiders to practice outdoors as soon as the rules allowed.
The early goal was to win the Patriot League, long dominated by Army, a top 15 team nationally. Making the NCAA tournament was the other brass ring Colgate was stretching to reach, but with no automatic bids and only 12 teams invited, it was a lofty aspiration.
Colgate, which was 2-2 at the time, lost to Army 11-7 in late March but continued to play well at times, beating Vermont and Holy Cross and keeping hopes alive for the "other championship," the ECACs, which the Red Raiders have won the past three seasons.
"We havent played as well as a team because we havent had a lot of Eric Freedman," says Whalen. "Anytime you lose a leader it changes the complexity of practices and games. People looked to Eric to do things and when the team hit some bumpy roads, we didnt have Eric to step up and make changes."
Freedman "felt out of it" after the Stony Brook game. He participated in the team run the morning after the win but the usual top five finisher came in dead last. "My head was pounding and I was dehydrated," says Freedman, who pressed on, attending classes and practicing for the Cornell game.
Against the Big Red he was "a step off." His teammates, coaches and parents in the stands noticed something wasnt the same. Even after the game, Freedman persisted but in the teams next practice his condition had reached a point where he could no longer ignore the symptoms. "There was an overwhelming experience in my head," says Freedman, who sought medical help.
It was concluded he had suffered a concussion against Stony Brook and his brain, which had been jarred, needed rest. Freedman skipped the teams spring break trip to Ohio and tried to sleep as much as he could at home despite the nauseousness and ache in his head.
"Its kind of like being drunk and hung over all at the same time." Spring break ended, but Freedman didnt feel any better and he stayed at home for a second week. During a sideline visit as his teammates walloped Vermont, Freedman had trouble following the ball and he felt unsteady. Thoughts of rejoining the team began to fade and the question of whether he would be able to complete his academics and graduate loomed ever larger.
"For me, lacrosse is a secondary part of my education. This is the thick part of the semester. I have my senior thesis and a lot of long-term work due in the next couple of weeks," Freedman was saying in early April. "Im not sure what will happen. I get dizzy reading the Syracuse sports section. Im not sure I could handle American economic history."
Even with the uncertainty, Freedman remained upbeat. "Whats most important is how people have treated me. Getting whacked in the head is Gods way of saying Dont be so concerned with everything and it has let me know who really cares."
Time and rest failed to make a difference for Freedman and it was decided more testing was in order. After five days of diagnostic work and observation it was determined Freedman has Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurologic disorder.
"Ill be off my feet for three months," says Eric, who reports he is feeling stronger each week, but the treatment is rest. This is one setback he cant work through, cant rehab harder, to come back sooner.
"I started War and Peace. I figured, why not, I have a lot of time on my hands, but the fatigue level is still there when I concentrate."
Doctors expect a full recovery and Freedman is pointing to the spring semester of 1999 to complete his degree. He will also have one more season of eligibility and expects to be back in uniform.
Of course, this was to be the year. Freedman was determined to make Phi Beta Kappa, he was ready to lead his team to new heights and celebrate with his friends. Priorities have changed now.
"It has been a strange ordeal," says Eric Freedman without a trace of self-pity. He is shouldering the weight and carrying on, waiting to return.