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Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 5:00 pm

Zack Hubbard's heart would pound, he couldn't catch his breath and he felt completely drained.

That's nothing new for a cross country runner. It's pretty much the check list for anyone who runs a 5K in just over 18 minutes.

Only Hubbard, a sophomore at Desert Vista, wasn't running against the clock.

It was more like time stood still - for his parents.

"That might have been what he felt, but what we felt was complete terror," said his father, Steve. "All you could do was wait it out and it seemed like it took forever."

Zack's seizures started at age 4 when they found a spot on his brain. The incidents disappeared for a decade once he was put on medication only to return in the winter of 2008.

After suffering more than 20 seizures in six months, it was discovered that he had a brain tumor in March of 2009.

It led to successful brain surgery on June 11, 2009, as Dr. Harold Rekate of St. Joseph Hospital in Phoenix took out the lima bean-sized tumor, although some of it was left behind because two veins were imbedded in it and was too dangerous to remove completely.

"I was pretty scared and tried not think about it," said Zack, recalling the day of the surgery. "The night before it was tough to sleep and lack of sleep (along with physical exertion) is one of the things that brought on the seizures. I was sitting in the waiting room the day of the surgery and I started freaking out. I had a seizure right there."

It was the last one the 15-year-old has had and he is in the process of being weaned off his anti-seizure medication.

"Right now, everything is going well, but because they left some of it behind, he will have to get checked out every six months," Steve said. "This type of tumor is usually fatal in adults so we feel fortunate to get done what they could."

The seizures stopped Zack from participating in cross country and club soccer. He didn't do much outside of his parent's presence. There were no sleepovers at a friend's house and they asked his soccer coach to limit his minutes.

Three weeks after the surgery, however, he was back to running on his own and he joined the Desert Vista cross country team. He didn't perform as well - he usually clocked one of the bottom three times in the Thunder program - as he would have liked, but that is no longer the case.

After logging more than 500 miles during the summer, Hubbard is becoming a valuable member of the team, adding depth to the Thunder's program. The team is heading to California this weekend as the Thunder competes in the 30th annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Costa Mesa.

"I've improved my time by 4 minutes," he said, hardly containing a proud smile. "I ran a 5K in 18:12 and I am getting stronger."

Desert Vista coach Chris Hanson said Zack has a drive that probably comes from fighting through his medical issues.

"He is progressing from year to year and from meet to meet," Hanson said. "He is a very determined young individual and I am sure what he dealt with has made him that way. Zack is trying to get better and that is all you can ask from a young runner."

For the Hubbard family, which also includes Zack's mom, Julie, and sister, Katie, who is a freshman at Emerson College, the ability to watch him return to one of his passions is difficult to put in words.

"He works hard at it and he just loves to run," Steve said. "I coached him for several years so I know how much he loved sports and to have to limit him on something he loved to do was hard.

"It wasn't long ago that we didn't let him do much by himself and now he is on a course running unsupervised for the most part and there isn't much concern."

It's a long way from those couple of first grand mal seizures when Zack was a toddler and he had to be flown by helicopter to the hospital.

"They didn't know as much about seizures back then (in 1998)," Steve said. "They were saying all kinds of scary things like possible brain damage. As a parent it is the scariest thing to see your son on the ground twitching and convulsing. And we didn't know early on that when the seizure is over that there is a period where they are totally non-responsive, like the body is re-booting, and it can last up to a half hour.

"You are telling him to ‘Wake up, wake up!' and you get nothing until it runs its course."

Fortunately all of it appears to behind them, but that doesn't mean the Hubbards are done thinking about it or taking matters into their own hands.

Or feet so to speak.

For the second year in a row, the Hubbards have signed up for the Brain Tumor Walk at Kiwanis Park in Tempe. Last year, they raised $1,500 for the cause as the cross country program pledged its time and money. The goal at the very least is to match it this year at the Oct. 23 event.

Those interested can either join his group "DVCC" and walk or donate at

The process has become a teaching moment for Zack as he now knows to never take anything for granted.

"It has taught me that you can overcome anything," he said. "It was the worst moment and the best moment of my life. I was freaking out and scared at the time, but now I can do everything I have ever wanted to do."

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
  • Sports writer
  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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