The “Cardiac Kid”: Athlete Spotlight on Terence Downey and his incredible cross country season


Matthew Levine

When Terence Downey had heart surgery to remove an extra nerve in his heart on Aug. 22, 2019, no one believed he would be running cross country varsity times within weeks after the surgery.
Downey, a sophomore Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School,  has turned the heads of the student body and coaches alike in his second season of cross country. Although he had a strong first season, Downey was often hampered by his physical ailment: Downey’s heart could often reach 260 beats per minute during physical activity. 
With Downey’s heart issues resolved, he has broken his personal record in the 5K three times this season. Compared to his best time of 20:03 last season, Downey has posted times of 19:13, then 18:54 and then most recently 18:18 at Oak Ridge Park on Thursday, Oct. 17. 
“It was really shocking…. Just the way I’m dropping times over and over again is really surprising but I’m finding new ways to push myself,” Downey said. 
Without the cardiac issues, Downey has been performing better than ever; however, that hasn’t always been the case. There were days last season when Downey was unsure if running was something he wanted to continue, especially with his frequent heart episodes. Sticking with cross country, however, has made the results that much sweeter for Downey. 
“It has opened up a lot more commitment for me… being able to perform better than I did before has made it more desirable,” Downey said. “Before when I would get heart episodes it wasn’t fun to the point where sometimes I didn’t want to do this anymore. Now its a lot more fun and competitive and I can go in and get what I want.”
Downey’s Cross Country Coach, Jeff Koegel, credits Downey’s work ethic and desire to be the main source of his success. He speaks highly of Downey. 
“I’ve had kids over the last 23 years that I’ve been coaching that have been insanely talented but didn’t have anywhere near the work ethic that Terence has,” Koegel said. “And you know, you try to hold him up as an example.”