His wrestling coach called him “four timer” — because, surely, Luke Furtick would bring home four state championships, one for each year at Swansea High School.
Instead, Furtick watched from the sideline as the team he considered family fell short of the title his freshman year. He was one of the team’s youngest members, and he didn’t even take the mat in the championship tournament, but his teammates voted him captain and handed him their runner-up trophy.
“You want to talk about tears being shed,” said Furtick, who now graduates near the top of Swansea’s senior class.
It’s hard for him not to wonder whether the outcome of that tournament might have been different, whether the team could have brought home the championship, if he had competed. If a heart condition, diagnosed when Furtick was only 9 years old, had not suddenly pulled him off the mat.
And it’s hard not to think about the unfairness of it all — “They get to do it; not me. I should be able to get out there. … I was just mad. … But I was also proud of them.
“That team was family to me,” Furtick said.
The heart condition, discovered when Furtick was in fifth grade, forced him to give up football as an elementary school student, then to give up wrestling five years later — heartbreaking for the natural competitor.
“We’re competitive in our house,” said Furtick’s mom, Kari, who teaches at Swansea High. His father, Travis, is a police officer in Orangeburg. “We push each other. I think he gets that from us in good nature.”
Furtick had every reason to use his heart condition as an excuse to hold back, to do less.
But, “why? I’m still perfectly capable,” he reasoned.
After taking his sophomore year off from competing in sports, Furtick couldn’t stay away from being a part of a team. He found a new home on the track, with his doctor’s blessing.
“He’s our best distance runner by far,” said Daniel Burton, Furtick’s track coach, who watched the teen not only assume a natural role in competition, but a natural leadership role. “A lot of kids nowadays, they’re shy to take the lead. … But Luke just steps into that role. He’s the first to show others how to do something.”
Furtick competed in cross country in the fall and advanced all the way to the lower state track and field tournament this spring. His track career ended there, but he’s got plenty to keep him busy before moving on to study at the University of South Carolina Aiken this fall, including competing at a national Beta Club convention in Disney World this summer.
Furtick, who also ranks highly academically among his class, is looking ahead to a possible career in medicine. He believes he could become the same kind of compassionate, encouraging doctor as those who have treated him ever since his heart diagnosis.
He’s got no excuse to keep him from doing it.
“Everybody’s gone through something big. … That’s something everybody has in common,” Furtick said. “You have to let it build you, develop you, learn something from it. I’ve done that with my heart problem. I had that excuse, but I don’t let it hold me back.”