Pasco swimmer returns after health scare
NEW PORT RICHEY - Joe Geschke first entered a pool as a 1-year-old. Unlike most youngsters, he immediately began to swim and hated to leave the pool. His parents enrolled him in swimming lessons at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center, and by the time he was 5 he was competing in sanctioned USA Swimming meets. "I loved the water from Day One," Geschke, 20, said. "For me, everything outside would go away, and I would be in my happy, private place." But on the morning of Nov. 30, 2011, everything changed.As a swimmer at Nova Southeastern University, a Division II school in Fort Lauderdale, he had strenuous daily workouts and a dream to become a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. But that day he felt dizzy and his speech was slurred. Geschke collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. The diagnosis was mycoplasma encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. By the time his family arrived, Geschke was unable to breathe and went into a coma. He was put on life support. Geschke awoke five days later and was taken off life support. Shortly after, his breathing and heart stopped and a defibrillator was immediately employed. Although he recovered, he was unable to talk and constantly twitched. His condition gradually improved, but he lost all memory prior to the stroke. His family used flash cards with the names and faces of family, friends and teammates. In fall 2012, he enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College, but discovered he could not retain much of what he read and was unable to continue his education. Geschke began working in a family business doing building maintenance and repair. It was tough for a life-long swimmer. Geschke found success at age 6, when he competed in a sanctioned freestyle event in Lakeland for swimmers ages 8-and-under and even took first place as the youngest competitor. Soon after, he competed in local swim meets nearly every weekend. By 10, he was invited to summer camps at some of the nation's largest universities, including Florida, Auburn and Ohio State. At Ridgewood High, Geschke qualified at the state level all four years. In his first three years, he specialized in the 500-yard freestyle, but as a senior he switched to the 100-yard backstroke. "For some reason, I was not kicking my legs much in freestyle events," the 2011 graduate said. "When I started doing the backstroke, my legs just kicked naturally." Geschke's swimming prowess got the attention of more than 70 colleges, including Division I schools Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn and LSU. He decided against northern schools because of cold weather, choosing Nova Southeastern. "Everyone there made me feel more like a person than a number," the 6-foot-3 swimmer said. "Their head coach, Hollie Bonewit-Cron, made me feel welcome and we bonded immediately. My decision was easy, and I verbally committed to (Nova) before we left the campus." Nearly two years after his health scare, Geschke is swimming again. Later this summer, he will renew his lifeguard certification. "I once had a dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer," Geschke said. "I may not reach that level again, but I do want to train and compete again. Whatever happens, I will choose to stop swimming competitively on my own terms. I can live with competing one more time, then quitting competition for good." Correspondent Cliff Gill can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter@ReporterCliff.