MUNCIE – There wasn’t anything alarming about Cameron Ottinger missing a few days of school in early December. A few of his Central swimming teammates had the flu, and it was just kind of assumed that Cameron had also gotten the bug.
He stayed home Monday and then again Tuesday of that week. Missing a meet against New Castle wasn’t that big of a deal, especially if he could get back later that week for a meet against Delta.
Cameron was absent from school Wednesday, but he returned Thursday, determined to return to action later that night. But after five periods, a teacher told Cameron that he needed to see a doctor immediately.
So his mother, Allison, took him to Primetime Pediatrics, a walk-in clinic that treats illnesses that aren’t life-threatening. Once there, it was discovered Cameron’s blood pressure was extremely low because of dehydration, so an ambulance was called to take him to the emergency room.
Most high school athletes envision their senior season as the year during which they make their mark, really stamp their legacy. It’s their chance to leave a lasting impression, the one everyone remembers them by. Cameron’s dream has been more like a nightmare, and that day was just the beginning of a difficult journey for him.
As Cameron bids for a fourth straight trip to the state meet during Saturday’s Jay County Sectional, he realizes he’s fortunate to be back in the water.
Maybe later he’ll discover a silver lining and be able to glean some big lesson. But, as any athlete who is deprived of the opportunity to compete at his peak during his senior season, he is filled with disappointment right now.
“Being sick just sucks; that’s about all I can come up with,” he said Tuesday afternoon at practice, shaking his head.
‘He still has that mental ability’
Cameron approached this past summer different than he had any other. Normally one who likes to enjoy his time off from school, he attacked with the mindset of “Senior year, why don’t I just give it my all? Train hard all through the summer, give it one last chance.” He didn’t have plans to swim in college, so there would be plenty of time for rest the following summer.
The 6-foot Cameron bulked up to 185 pounds, intent on being more of a sprinter. He frequently trained outside the water, running and lifting weights. He geared his regimen toward the shorter events like the 50 and 100 freestyle rather than a race like the 200 individual medley.
As a three-time sectional champion in the 100 breaststroke and medley relay and a two-time champ in the 200 freestyle relay, Cameron was reinventing himself. From there, a string of setbacks have marred his quest for a storybook finish to his swimming career.
The season began innocently enough with Cameron competing in two meets. Soon after, however, a bacterial infection because of overuse of antibiotics hospitalized him. Cameron was taking medicine for sinus infections (he had sinus surgery last season), a possible urinary tract infection and also for a nerve issue on the back of his head that prevents him from sleeping. Essentially, too strong of a dose upset the balance of bacteria in his stomach.
The antibiotics got rid of all the bacteria, including the good bacteria, so there wasn’t anything to fight off illness. Cameron was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. This is caused when bacteria overgrows and releases toxins that attack the lining of the intestines, according to WebMD. C. diff is one of the most serious causes of infectious diarrhea in the United States.
“It was basically like blood out of both ends for two weeks,” Cameron said, pointing to his mouth and backside.
Cameron stayed in the hospital for about six days. Being near winter vacation, he only missed a few days of school. But in a sport like swimming where conditioning is paramount, each day out of the pool is detrimental.
Unable to contribute in the water, Cameron did his best out of the water to provide whatever guidance he could.
“Cameron has been a valuable swimmer for us all four years — both in (and out of) the water and with him being here before, he knows what to say to guys,” said Central coach Steve Spradlin. “Last year we had some guys down at sectionals after swims, and he was the one who got everyone together and was like, ‘Hey, let’s go guys. The meet’s not over; let’s do this.’
“So we talked this year about even though he’s sick, even though he’s not had an ideal season when it comes to being healthy, he still has that mental ability, he still has that aspect he brings to the team, too.”
A pleasant surprise of Cameron’s hospitalization was the outpouring of support. Cameron is very clear that he doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him, but he was appreciative of teammates showing up at the hospital to check on him or texting him while he fought the illness.
And as a member of Muncie-based Cardinal Community Swim Club, Cameron’s circle of friends extends outside of just Central.
“Several swimmers even came by from other teams, which was really uplifting,” said Cameron’s father, Lance. “The cool thing about swimming and the swimming community is everyone is concerned with one another. It was cool to see the friendships he developed not only with his own team, but other teams as well. That was evident.”
No comeback shortcuts
After being released from the hospital, Cameron wasn’t supposed to eat or drink because of the severity of the infection of the colon, and he was supposed to rest.
Cameron had avoided surgery, but three weeks later, he wasn’t so lucky. The medicine he was on gave him migraine headaches and forced him back into the hospital. He eventually had a recurrence of the same infection that required him to go to Indianapolis for a stomach procedure and was also found to have an ulcer during that time.
Cameron finally returned to the water Jan. 17 in a tri-meet at Kokomo with Anderson. Being able to participate in senior night Jan. 27 against Yorktown was a thrill, even though his times weren’t close to where he’d would’ve liked them to be.
He’s realized that coming back from this was a process, and there weren’t shortcuts.
“I think since he’s come back, he really wants to help out,” said junior teammate Zach Terrill. “In some areas, he probably pushes himself further than he needs to. It’s hard to get used to being sick like that and tough to come back from, but he’s doing a really good job. He’s ready to swim and he’s pushing himself hard. He’s ready to come back and be part of the team, so we’re glad to have him back.”
In all, Cameron has missed about five weeks of practice and over half the team’s meets. All of the strength training seemed to not matter as he lost about 15 pounds.
“Spending that much time getting ready for an event and then seeing it kind of … I don’t want to say go to waste, but to get delayed a little bit (was difficult),” he said. “Maybe if it was my junior year, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. But since it’s my senior year, it’s kind of like, ‘Man, any other time this could have happened because I don’t have another year to prove myself.’
“I don’t have another year to prove myself, so I was ready to see where it would take me.”
‘One last go-round’
Cases of C. diff can range from mild to life-threatening, depending on the person. Lance thinks that with his son being in such good shape from swimming, he’s been able to battle through it. By sharing his story, Cameron isn’t looking for people to heap pity on him, and he’s not trying to build in an excuse for why he might fail to qualify for the state meet his senior season.
Rather, the Ottingers hope Cameron’s tale is a cautionary one for other athletes. Lance hopes his son’s journey sheds some light on the potential dangers of overusing antibiotics and the problems it can cause. He’s learned that communication with your physician is key.
“It never hurts to question your provider,” Lance said, “or just make sure that it’s your best option — just being educated on it and making sure you know signs and symptoms.”
As he tries to help the Bearcats win back-to-back sectional titles, Cameron is at a crossroads. He’ll be swimming the 50 free and 100 backstroke, as well as the backstroke leg of the medley relay. He is going to attend Ball State University next year and might try walking on the swim team or joining the triathlon club like Lance did in college, but this weekend might shape his thinking.
Swim poorly, and he’ll think that if he could have put in more time than the outcome would have been different. Swim well, and he’ll wonder just how much better he can get if he can push through all he’s had to overcome.
Either way, he just hopes this tale has a happy ending.
“It has affected me a lot,” Cameron said. “I’m excited I’m able to swim because for the longest time, I was thinking I wasn’t going to swim just because my main focus should be getting better. But it’s my senior year, and I guess I can postpone recovery for a while just to give it one last go-round.”