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A nightmare saved my life

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A nightmare saved my life

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My cardiologist has made it very clear to me that although I’ve had to retire, most athletes with my condition never actually find out.

 

He’s usually talking to the grieving parents of an athlete who has passed away.

 

It’s scary stuff. I’m sure if you research Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy you will find many sportspeople who have been affected by the condition.

 

HCM is a thickening of one of the internal walls in the heart. Unfortunately, it’s a leading cause of death in athletes because often there are no symptoms associated with the condition.

 

If I’m pushed to my limits, there’s a risk of me having a heart attack and, without playing the blame game, I have to be honest: this should have been found earlier. 

 

That’s frustrating for me, and even more so for my family and the people who are close to me. Without knowing, I had most likely been at risk of something horrible happening for quite a few years.

 

In saying that, I had many great experiences. Especially while playing for Sydney FC in the 2015-16 season. I scored in the semi-final against Adelaide, I started in a Grand Final at 19 years of age. That was a great achievement for me, something that I’d really worked hard for. Then I played against Tottenham and Chelsea in front of 85,000 fans.

 

Being a part of that was unbelievable and something that I never would have imagined doing at such a young age. It’s frustrating to give it all up but I’ve still got my life. I was able to experience some incredible things and those memories will stay with me for ever.

 

 

 

THE DREAM MOVE TO EUROPE

I’d always dreamed of being a professional footballer and playing in Europe. To have secured a move that would allow me to do that at the age of 20 was incredible.

 

It was reward for all the hard work I’d put in over the years and all the sacrifices. Not just for me, but also for my family and agent, Miquel Riera Cladera. Getting that contract with Numancia was something special.

 

I flew from Sydney to Madrid and you only have to drive two hours north to get to Soria, where Numancia is. A small town but very beautiful. I was put up in an apartment there and presented to the public and the press.

 

I was given tours of the stadium and training grounds and that’s really when the dream came to life because I could see it right in front of me. That week was great. Then I found out the news.

 

Throughout that week I had to complete some medicals. First, muscular and skeletal testing, then the day after the press conference I went in for some heart tests.

 

Within the first five minutes of testing the cardiologist felt quite strongly that something was wrong. From there, my dream slowly started to disappear.

 

If I’m pushed to my limits, there’s a risk of me having a heart attack and, without playing the blame game, I have to be honest: this should have been found earlier. 

 

After the ECG they ran an echo cardiogram, which is like an ultrasound – you can see images of the heart. It was more of the same. The next week is a bit of a blur. The club sent me down to a leading cardiologist in Madrid to double check everything. I got an MRI for some exact readings and after all that they still didn’t want to tell me 100 percent.

 

I’m so glad Mum and Dad were there with me. They helped get me through that time, even though it was extremely tough for them, too. I don’t have children but I can only imagine what it’s like to see your son struggle so much. I guess the toughest thing for them was that there was nothing they could do to stop it.

 

 

THE DIAGNOSIS

Not having a straight answer was horrible so I came back to Sydney to see Professor Chris Semsarian, who is a world leader in my condition. Chris did his own testing and came to the conclusion that I had HCM and would have to retire. That was the day after my 21st birthday.

 

I think it’s important that I speak truthfully. That’s life and unfortunately it can throw a lot of curve balls at you. Hopefully in the future I can be there for people who may be in a similar position. There’s a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of flashbacks, a lot of very dark times. I’m a positive person and a strong person but it’s not easy to talk about. 

 

I’ve always used negative news and bad times to fuel success and I’ll do the same now. At the same time, there’s always someone worse off and you have to keep reminding yourself of that. I can’t say the world is against me when there are people out there struggling to provide for their families. You have to look at the bigger picture.

 

 

 

THE MOVE HOME

People talk about jet lag when they travel, but I had a torrid time coming back to Sydney. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. It was a grieving process.

 

First, there’s a lot of shock, then denial. I think if you ask any of the coaching staff or boys at Sydney FC, I was definitely one of the fittest in the team. I just wanted to say, ‘Well hang on, I don’t think there is anything wrong at all’.

 

Another frustrating thing was that I had found it really tough leaving Australia. I’d said goodbye to a lot of people and a lot of things. It took months to say goodbye to everything and I still couldn’t come to terms with it. So, to be back in the country after just a couple of weeks was a huge slap in the face.

 

There’s a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of flashbacks, a lot of very dark times. I’m a positive person and a strong person but it’s not easy to talk about. 

 

I feel Sydney FC had an obligation to do medical testing. To my understanding that should be carried out once every 12 months before pre-season commences. It was only done once while I was at the club and I was there from the age of 16.

 

That test was conducted in February 2016 and was carried down by the AFC prior to our Asian Champions League campaign. I heard nothing back and continued playing as normal. It was only when I announced my retirement that I requested the results. It said that there was an abnormality and I should have had further testing done. They would have found I had the condition then.

 

Whether that test was overlooked or whatever the case is, it’s very hard for me to come to grips with that, because it’s my life that’s being toyed with. It should have been picked up and I should have retired in February.

 

During this time, I was also playing under 20s and under 23s for Australia and they signed off on Olympic medical forms. The forms would say, ‘Is this player fit to play?’, the answer would be yes. On the same sheet it says, ‘Has any heart testing been done?’ The answer would be no.

 

I’m quite a positive person and I know for a fact that massive changes have been made. Whether that’s been made public or kept quiet behind closed doors. I know that there has been a massive change after what happened to me. I know that all A-League clubs are now doing medical testing before pre-season. Anybody that comes to the clubs must have these tests done.

 

I have a very strong view on medical testing now. Clubs are on top of strength and conditioning, hydration testing and dieting, but before all that they need to make sure their athletes are healthy to play.

 

 

KIK FOOTBALL

I still want to be a football player even though that’s not possible.

 

It was probably a couple of months before I found a new sense of direction. I decided to start up Kik Football, an academy for young footballers, and dedicate myself to getting the business off the ground. It’s the next best thing to playing.

 

I’ve always felt that I have a lot of attributes that make a strong leader. During my career I had very good relationships with all the players and staff and I would often look after players who might have been a couple of years younger than me, especially when they were having difficult times I might have experience dealing with.

 

Helping kids improve, dealing with business people and business owners. They’re all skills I learnt from playing football and being in the public eye.

 

There are opportunities popping up every week for me. Of course, I’m grateful but I know it’s because of hard work and the transition that I have made. I’m not trying to get as many kids as I can to grow the biggest academy in the country. I’m looking to develop young footballers first and foremost and I’m looking to run a successful company. I have to stay true to myself, my staff and my players. That’s the only way this can be a success.

 

We currently run one-on-one sessions and small-group sessions. We also do school programs and I would like to expand the academy sessions for different age groups and run some holiday clinics. I have great contacts in Spain and Europe through Miquel Riera, who still works very closely with me and I’m very grateful for that. I want to do some tours to Europe as well.

 

I’ve just finished part two of my B-Licence and I’ll be looking to do my A-Licence as soon as possible.

 

Working away

A post shared by KIKI NAUMOFF (@cnaumoff29) on

 

 

WHAT I MISS MOST

I miss the pressure.

 

I was always someone who performed under pressure and it’s something that’s very hard to replicate in normal life – that intoxicating rush of adrenaline.

 

If you ask a lot of sportspeople who have retired, they’ll probably say the same thing. I miss being nervous and walking out in front of big crowds.

 

I was never scared. I just wanted to showcase what I was about.

 

I’m not a bitter person, though. Football gave me many opportunities and many friends that will last a lifetime.

 

 

THANK YOU

First and foremost, I’d like to thank my immediate family – my father and mother, Tony and Gordana, and my brother Josh.

 

Then, Numancia for being top-class with everything. They’ve looked after me medically, sent support and always been there for me. The relationship between me and the club is still strong. I have to thank them for that.

 

It’s frustrating to give it all up but I’ve still got my life. I was able to experience some incredible things and those memories will stay with me for ever.

 

There were people who had the condition that reached out to me on social media. I’m very thankful for those people. It shows I have great support. To get that helping hand from people who were strangers was unbelievable.

 

I also owe a lot to some people who are in the public eye, like Tony Vidmar, who missed the 2006 World Cup because of a heart condition.

 

I was able to spend a week down at the AIS with Tony and the Centre of Excellence boys. It was great to be involved in sessions, helping coach 20 of the country’s best talents. To be able to do that within my first year of coaching was a great experience.

 

Spending time with Tony and getting advice from him was great. He was someone that I was cheering for when we qualified for that World Cup and all those years later, I was talking to him about my condition. It was great to have that support.

 

Christopher 'Kiki' Naumoff  -  Contributor

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