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Unlucky in injury: World’s first “spleen protector” built for U of T athlete

April 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Courtesy: Nick Snow

By Perry King

With U of T’s bittersweet playoff loss to against York University Feb. 24, Nick Snow capped a memorable university athletics career that almost did not happen.

The last five years were a maturing experience for Snow. The basketball program gave Snow the chance to see and compete in basketball games worldwide, and connect with other academically gifted athletes. “It’s been fantastic. It’s like I have 12 brothers to share all my experiences with,” said the six-foot-eight centre. “The program has supported me when I’ve been through health problems, and that’s very important to me. I’m not sure where I would be without Varsity Blues Basketball.”

In 2005, after high school, the London, Ont. native was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis—a condition where his immune system attacks the liver as if it were not his own. Because of those problems, Snow’s spleen became enlarged.

But it did not stop Snow.

“When I first came to U of T, the doctors said I would never be able to play any contact sport again because it was dangerous to do so with an enlarged—and thus unprotected by the ribs—spleen,” wrote Snow in an email.

After a rough summer, Coach Mike Katz, along with Dr. Doug Richards at U of T’s Sports Medicine Clinic (55 Harbord St.) and Nirtal Shah, the team’s physiotherapist, “helped put together the first ever documented ‘spleen protector,’” said Snow.

Developed from composite materials into a shell, made to fit around his left rib cage and midsection—to protect him and his opponents on the court—Snow was able to play for five seasons.

“He continued to soldier on that way, but that became a given, you know. It certainly didn’t hold him back physically or ability wise,” said Katz.

When Snow played, he was integral part of the offense and defence. This season alone, he was a stable defensive player, averaging 11 points a game and 4.4 rebounds in nine league games.

But this season was an odd one for both the Blues and Snow. Although the team went 9-1 against the CIS and was ranked in the CIS Top Ten for much of the early season, they almost crumbled. They sustained four tough losses to perennial opponents in University of Ottawa and Carleton University. After winning five of their last six OUA games, they let a poor 21–3 start dictate the rest of their playoff game against York, eventually losing 86–79.

“The loss to York was very tough to handle. We had high expectations of ourselves as a team, with lofty goals. Unfortunately, we didn’t attain those goals. I give York credit though, they really came out ready to play, and hit some really tough shots down the stretch that won them the game,” said Snow.

Snow’s season was about as unpredictable. “I first had someone land on my ankle in a pre-season tournament, then after one game back I got the H1N1 flu, and over Christmas I injured my knee, getting a bone bruise that would keep me out about six weeks,” said the resilient Snow.

“He’s been a starter for the last three years, he’s been an integral part of the team. Unfortunately, this year, he was chronically injured and that upset the dynamic of the team and it didn’t make for a good year for him,” said Katz. “It was very disconcerting for everybody.”

For Katz, Snow’s best basketball was about to bloom in his senior year on the team. “Leadership notwithstanding, it’s about the fact that he wasn’t able to play. And we missed his skill and experience; he’s a big guy. He’s our big man, and if we get him to play enough, that’s what this is really about.”

The Blues are losing four starters to graduation. For Katz, the summer is a crucial time to develop many of the returning and incoming players who have developed their skills and gained high performance experience.

As for Snow, he is opting for rest. “For now, I’m just lifting weights, swimming and cycling. I’ll get back into playing a bit more seriously later on, but for now, just healing and training.”

But his love for the game will always be strong, injuries or not. “I’ll always play basketball, to what extent I’m not sure. I would love to work around basketball and sports, in the sports administration side of things, so we’ll see if there are any jobs for me out there!”

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Tags: Sports · General