A year ago, Bethany DeLoof ’21 awoke from surgery to the news that she’d experienced midgut volvulus with infarction of the small intestine.
Essentially, her large and small intestines weren’t properly attached and likely never had been. The unbearable pain she’d been in was the result of her small intestine’s twisting so thoroughly that it impeded circulation. Without surgical intervention, midgut volvulus can be fatal.
Part of DeLoof’s small intestine had started dying.
“If the doctors hadn’t caught it when they did, I probably would’ve lost more of my intestine. I possibly could have had a colostomy bag,” DeLoof said. “But they were able to catch it in time where they only had to remove about half of the small intestine.”
The URI women’s track star remembers her surgeon’s saying a full recovery could take a year. She remembers his saying she’d likely not be able to finish the semester.
Chalk it up to post-surgery haze, but DeLoof does not remember the next part, the part her mother and her coaches told her later. That moment when the surgeon said she would not compete again. “I think I ignored that part,” DeLoof said and grinned.
This spring, DeLoof competes for URI one last time.
“It was never an option that I wasn’t coming back.”
‘It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt’
To understand the improbable comeback of Bethany DeLoof requires a rewind of a year—almost to the day. A year ago, DeLoof was preparing for her last spring outdoor track season. URI Women’s Track head coach Laurie Feit-Melnick recalled that she had just competed in a meet at the University of Central Florida over spring break and had run very well. “About a week later, on March 25th, Bethany had done a hard interval workout on the indoor track,” Feit-Melnick said. “It was a great workout, and then she went to a colloquium on campus.”
DeLoof is a graduate student pursuing a master’s in biological and environmental sciences with a marine biology and evolution specialization. Soon after the colloquium started, DeLoof said she began to experience stomach pain. The pain grew unbearable; she couldn’t pay attention. “I ended up leaving class. I was planning to get in my car and go home or go back to the track,” she said. “I thought if I could just lie down there and be around my teammates, I’d feel better. But I didn’t make it that far.”
DeLoof detoured to URI’s Health Services clinic.
“It hurt to lie down. It hurt to stand up. It hurt to stand still. I was moving around, trying to find some position to be comfortable. The nurse at Health Services wanted to do imaging, but I couldn’t lie still,” DeLoof said. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
A nurse called an ambulance. The ride to South County Hospital was so unbearable that DeLoof tried to unbuckle herself from the stretcher more than once.
Feit-Melnick and her husband, John Melnick, the associate head coach of the women’s track team and DeLoof’s sprint coach, got a call from the team’s athletic trainer, who told them DeLoof had been taken to the hospital.
“We were both shocked,” Feit-Melnick recalled. “I remember thinking perhaps it was her appendix.”
Coach Feit-Melnick and a teammate met her at the ER and stayed with her until she was admitted to the hospital. They were there for the 11 days of her hospital stay as well. “All my teammates, my coaches, my roommate, they all came and spent a lot of time with me,” DeLoof said. “I wasn’t ever on my own.”
“And I almost immediately started talking about how I was going to come back for a sixth year and continue running track.”
DeLoof was back to running a month after surgery. She also completed the semester without an extension. Some might make much of such a comeback after a serious health scare, but DeLoof is devoid of swagger or bravado. “It’s all about mindset,” she said.
“I was one hundred percent determined.”
‘I didn’t have to go through that alone’
DeLoof will graduate next year. This spring is her last season to compete for URI. Ordinarily, college athletes have four years of eligibility that can sometimes extend into a fifth year. DeLoof, though, lost a season to Covid and another to her recovery, which made competing for a sixth season possible.
“Kacey Light, the head of NCAA compliance, filled out a waiver and all the surgeon’s notes to process a medical hardship waiver, and Bethany’s sixth year was granted,” Feit-Melnick said.
This past indoor track season found DeLoof competing unattached, meaning she was not officially running for the University. “Bethany had several personal best times and tried a new event, the 800m race, during this past indoor season,” Feit-Melnick said. “Her determination to get well and race again is truly remarkable.”
DeLoof credits her comeback to the support she received from her mother, her coaches, teammates, and roommates.
“They made a huge difference in my recovery,” she said. “I didn’t have to go through that alone. I was in a better place mentally because I had all these people. If I didn’t, I very easily could have fallen into despair.”
And she still has things she wants to accomplish. “One of my biggest goals is to qualify for the NCAA regional preliminary meet at the end of the year. It’d be cool if I qualify for that. And then, obviously, running faster times. I have a lot of silver medals and a couple of bronze medals. I’d really like to win a gold and a conference title this year.
“This is my last year, and I want to make the most of it.”