MYRTLE BEACH – For Myrtle Beach High track coach Vince Peeples, the past month and a half has resembled a story created in Hollywood, but this time life imitated art.
Photo credit: Thomas McLeroy for scrunners.com
On April 9, the Seahawks’ E.J. Goings was admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis. Five weeks later, the senior track standout won the state championship in the boys’ 800-meter run, doing it in a personal best of 1:56.46.
Video: Goings after 800 win
Peeples said he watched the 800 alongside E.J.’s mother and father from the stands at Spring Valley High.
“When he got about to the 250 mark, he just made his move going into the turn and it was incredible,” said Peeples, who has coached E.J. since eighth grade. “It was like watching a movie. His mother had tears in her eyes and his dad was watching him with a lot of pride and they were just faithful that things turned out the way they did.”
E.J. spent five days of his Spring break at MUSC, receiving treatment for what was diagnosed as viral pancreatitis. The disease causes inflammation of the pancreas, which leads to sudden and severe pain in the middle and upper abdomen. Symptoms include, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
E.J. said he had just finished training with the track team when he started vomiting stomach acid.
“The acid was the color of guacamole,” he said.
Looking back at that weekend, Peeples said he could see that something wasn’t right with E.J. “He’s the consummate team guy. He didn’t complain, but I could tell something was going on. Then on Monday, he really didn’t get after it like we were expecting him to do.”
His mother took him to Grand Strand Regional Center where he was admitted and then transferred to MUSC.
“I was scared I wouldn’t make it,” E.J. said.
He said early on, doctors were doubtful that he would be able to finish the track season. “I acted like I didn’t hear those words,” E.J. said. “I was worried, at first, but then I realized that it was nothing God couldn’t handle and I gave my worries to him.”
E.J. was released from MUSC April 13, weak and barely able to walk. He received a warm welcome when he returned to track practice the following Monday.
“The doctor’s instructions were to put on him what he could handle,” Peeples said. The coaches had a little over a week to get E.J. and the team prepared for the regional meet and the Class AAA state qualifier in early May.
“We basically took that week and broke it down,” Peeples said, with E.J. limited to walking the Monday following his release from the hospital. On Tuesday he mixed the walks with brief jogs on the track, and on Wednesday the Seahawks coaches held a practice meet and E.J. ran a lap in sweats in the 4x400.
“He ran a 52 or 53 in his sweats,” Peeples said.
The following day the coaches put E.J. back on his normal training schedule and worked with his doctor and parents on getting his diet back.
“We limited the fried foods and told him to keep his fluid levels up,” Peeples said.
“By that Friday I was feeling the he was going to be OK,” Peeples said. “As far as competing at the regional, our region wasn’t that strong in the 800, so I knew that 2:10 might get us out of the region.”
Once the Seahawks got past the regionals, the coaches had two weeks to prepare for the state qualifier. “We knew (E.J.) would have time to pick back up and get where he needed to be for the qualifier,” Peeples said.
E.J. did well at the qualifier, winning the 400, 800 and anchoring the 1600 relay. He would compete in those same events at state.
Peeples, who was also treated for pancreatitis nine years ago, said he knew the progression E.J.’s rehab would take. “I was in constant contact with his parents when he was at MUSC.”
E.J. said he was “pretty nervous” coming into the state meet at Spring Valley. When he got to the track that Saturday he immediately went through warm-ups and stretches.
“I did a few strides and then began to get my mind focused on the race. My coaches prepared my very well and I knew what I had to do,” he said. He knew that at the gun he had to come out fast to maintain his position within the top three.
“I didn’t panic when one of the runners took out fast,” he said. “I just relaxed and ran how I was prepared.”
E.J. said he started to make a move up in the second lap of the 800. He moved up gradually and at the 300-meter mark he told himself, “This is where I must strike.”
He said he started lengthening his stride in the final 200 meters and took the lead. “At the 120 mark, I began to change gears to get me to the finish line.”
When E.J. crossed the line, “all I could do was look up to the sky and say “Thank you, Lord.” That’s when the tears of joy started flowing from his mother, Cookie Goings.
“I am grateful to God for just allowing E.J. to run again,” Mrs. Goings said this week via a text message. “I’m also happy for him. He worked very hard.”
Though some may have assumed that as a senior E.J. was supposed to win at state, Peeples said his journey there and what he accomplished went well beyond that mindset.
“Watching him at state, I was thinking that 30 days ago this kid was on the proverbial death bed. Yeah, he won state, but his success was the fact that he challenged himself just to come back and be there. He ran the perfect race.”