UW’s Carson Fuller hopes to continue juggling track and field, medicine

[fa icon="calendar"] May 25, 2017 / by Seattle Times

University of Washington javelin throwing Carson Fuller (Howard Lao/University of Washington).

Athletics and medicine always have been reciprocal endeavors for the javelin thrower, who will spend the next few weeks finalizing his med school primary application. 

He also hopes to be preparing for the upcoming NCAA meet in Eugene, Ore.

Husky javelin thrower Carson Fuller admittedly was a little nervous about his upcoming performance this week.

No, not the NCAA West Regionals in Austin, Texas, in which Fuller will participate Thursday on the heels of his stunning Pac-12 championship two weekends ago. Sure, that’s a huge event in the college track world — a berth in the NCAA meet is at stake — but not as stressful as the one Fuller attended in Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, Fuller flew to the nation’s capital for the American Thoracic Society’s international conference — an equally huge event in the world of respiratory medicine. And Wednesday, Fuller gave a presentation to that august group to culminate months of research on lung-cancer prevention at Swedish Hospital under the auspices of his mentor, Dr. Jed Gordon, a renowned pulmonologist.

It’s exceedingly rare for a pre-med student to get such a forum, which is why, as he ran through his final Seattle pre-meet workout last Friday, Fuller admitted, “It’s pretty nerve-wracking. It’s kind of hard to imagine right now that in a few days I’ll be in a room in front of 500 doctors.

“But I think once I get through that, it’s really going to boost my confidence for throwing Thursday. I’m trying to ride that high out from the oral presentation all the way through the throwing.”

Athletics and medicine always have been reciprocal endeavors for Fuller, who will spend the next few weeks finalizing his med-school primary application — in addition, he hopes, to preparing for the NCAA meet on June 9-10 in Eugene, Ore. The top 12 finishers in Austin advance.

It was his own injuries in high school that initially fueled Fuller’s interest in the musculoskeletal system and launched him into the study of nutrition and the science behind it. When a teammate sustained an injury, Fuller would read up on it and offer input. Eventually, he got his nursing-assistant certification to see if medicine was indeed his calling.

“I started shadowing doctors and working as a nurse assistant at a long-term care facility, and I just fell in love with the work,” he said. “I got to see an open-heart surgery, which was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen.”

It’s only fitting that Fuller’s medical history has played a central role in his Husky career — both the low points and triumphs. After losing out on the 2015 season because of a torn patellar tendon in his left (plant) knee, Fuller completed his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry last year with a 3.5 GPA.

But he still had a year of eligibility, and after much soul-searching decided to return for one last season. That entailed taking post-graduate classes — his current workload includes online courses in medical ethics and global health, as well as getting credit for the 30 hours of research weekly at Swedish.

Somehow, Fuller is finding time for track, though that was thrown for a loop over the winter when he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder. Fuller suddenly faced another dilemma — undergo surgery and essentially end his career, or tough it out and see what happened. After much consultation with the UW medical staff and coaches, including throwing coach Jason Schutz, Fuller chose the latter path.

“Coach Schutz believed in me the whole time,” Fuller said. “He said, ‘I believe even with a torn labrum, you can go out there and do the things you want to do. You’re a freak athlete, and it might hurt, but it’s not going to hold you back from being great.’ ”

But the shoulder injury shut Fuller down for two months, and then an elbow injury cropped up recently that further hampered his training. Fuller said flatly that he doesn’t even want to know what’s wrong with his elbow until after the season, because he’s going to forge ahead regardless.

Not until mid-April, well into the Husky spring season, did Fuller debut in 2017 after two months of rehab, and he had just two meets under his belt when he headed into the Pac-12s. In warmups that day in Eugene, Fuller’s body was aching — shoulder, elbow, back — and he wasn’t sure if he could proceed.

“I was actually having some serious doubts,” he said. “My elbow was just in excruciating pain. I was feeling flat. My warmup throws were awful. I thought for a second, ‘Is this it? Is this my last meet?’ ”

But on his third attempt, after two lackluster ones, Fuller mustered the throw of his career, one that sailed 244 feet for a personal best. As soon he unleashed it, Fuller knew it was something special.

“I guess the adrenaline kicked in,” he said. “It was one of those throws that surprised me, which is always good, because it’s a reaction sport. It kind of jolted me, and I look up and I see a javelin flying, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, wow. That’s it right there.’ Then I kind of forgot about the pain after that.”

The throw stood up for the Pac-12 title (the first for a Husky man or woman in a throwing event since 2006), beating out the top throw of defending champion Cody Danielson of Oregon. Having crossed off one item from his list of goals, Fuller now seeks two more — the school record, which is 253 feet, 5 inches, set in 2011 by Kyle Nielsen, and to score in the national meet (he has been there three times).

“When that injury happened, I thought those goals were just out of the question,” Fuller said. “But after that (the Pac-12 title) happened, it gave me faith that they’re still in the picture. I guess it was just the most fulfilling thing I could imagine.”

Fuller’s primary goal remains a medical career, though he is still pondering a run at the 2020 Olympics. He likely will undergo shoulder surgery after the season and plans to spend next year in his native Spokane rehabbing, training for triathlons with his father and continuing the multi-faceted medical-school application process. UW is his top choice, followed by the new Washington State University med school and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

At 6 feet 5 with a tight end’s physique, Fuller will not look like your typical physician (he hasn’t decided what branch of medicine he’ll pursue). But he has not taken a typical path, either. One thing Fuller has come to realize is that the discipline of athletics has helped him immeasurably in his studies. His previous personal best came in the midst of eight- to 10-hour days studying for the MCAT exam (he aced it).

“I think having that mental stimulation of constantly studying, constantly staying busy, keeps your mind occupied on being productive and working toward goals,” he said.

Fuller fulfilled one of those goals Wednesday, in a room full of doctors. Now he’ll try to check a couple more off the list.

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Photo Credit: University of Washington javelin throwing Carson Fuller (Howard Lao/University of Washington).

Written by Seattle Times