Trael Joass can’t feel his heart beating. Severe cramp fills his chest. He undoes his headgear and drops to the ground. He tries to breathe slowly. He rubs a pulse on his neck, a way to soothe the pain. He feels helpless.
Then, “tick”, it’s over. He gets back up and plays the rest of the rugby game like it had never happened.
The 21 year old Wanderers second-five has had the same heart problem for the past three years, and up until two weeks ago it was manageable, and he could still bust through tackles, smash opposition attackers and run with speed, even after experiencing another “episode”.
But before the club rugby final against Waimea Old Boys, Trael’s cardiologist told him five words he never wanted to hear. “No more sport for you”.
“I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, right?’ I just broke down when I heard that,” Trael explains. “I just cried for ages. It’s hard enough to be told I’m not going to be able to trial for the Makos because this is the closest I’ve ever gotten, but then it’s another thing not being able to play for my club team in a final. That was the most upsetting thing for me.”
Trael has never been closer to a spot in the Tasman Makos squad, and was last week named in their “emerging players squad” which was effectively a trial team. It’s likely they will pick another midfielder for the ITM Cup squad, and it could have been him.
But Trael is now sidelined indefinitely. He can’t play rugby, he can’t hit the gym, he can’t run, and he can’t do anything that will over-exert his body — not until he gets surgery on his heart. “It could kill me. Death,” he simply answers when asked what would happen if he continues to play the sport he loves, the sport he grew up playing, and the sport he hoped would be his job this year.
Trael has supraventricular tachycardia, or “SVT” as he knows it as. It means he has abnormally fast heart rhythm, and it races up to 300 beats per minute. He will need an operation before being free to take the rugby field again. “It just goes fast. I’ve got more electric pulses than I’m meant to. I was told just to keep playing and if I faint it’d be a sign to stop, but I never fainted.”
But it’s still a big unknown as to when he will get that operation. Trael has a friend — another rugby player — who had a similar condition and waited three years before eventually going private. He is meeting with his GP this week, and hopes to have a clearer idea by the end of it. If the wait is too long, he’s considering going private too.
Out of action from sport until then, Trael says he will now focus on his building apprenticeship.