Freshman Rachel Dawson has made competing for the Watterson High School girls cross country team appear easy, as she earned a spot on varsity after running only one junior varsity race and was the Eagles' fifth-best finisher in her first varsity meet.

Freshman Rachel Dawson has made competing for the Watterson High School girls cross country team appear easy, as she earned a spot on varsity after running only one junior varsity race and was the Eagles' fifth-best finisher in her first varsity meet.

Little do most observers know that Dawson has a heart condition that used to occasionally leave her feeling too weak to walk and led to her having a pacemaker implanted in her chest to help stimulate her heart.

"We're all really proud of Rachel, because this is her first time running cross country and she's already surpassed everyone's expectations," said her mother, Yvonne Dawson, who has worked as a Registered Nurse at Ross Heart Hospital the past two years and has worked in the medical field for 22 years. "To see how far Rachel has come... wow, it's amazing."

Rachel Dawson was diagnosed with having complete heart blockage at the age of 5, after a routine checkup revealed that her heart rate was low for her age.

In Dawson's case, electrical signals do not properly pass from the upper chambers to the lower chambers of her heart, which sometimes led to her heart rate dropping to as low as 30 beats per minute.

Thus, at the age of 5, Dawson began wearing a Holter monitor, which is a small, mobile machine that continuously records the heart's rhythms.

Dawson's cardiologist waited as long as possible before implanting a pacemaker into her body, because the younger a patient is when receiving a pacemaker, the more likely he or she will need additional surgeries to adjust the device in the future because of growth spurts.

Over the next four years, Dawson's heart rate began to drop more frequently, leaving her dizzy, tired and sapped of energy. To eliminate the risk of her passing out because of heart blockage, a pacemaker was implanted into her chest when she was 9. The pacemaker detects when she has an overly-long pause between heartbeats and, through electrical impulses, stimulates her heart to beat at a fixed rate of at least 60 beats per minute.

Dawson said the pacemaker has eliminated the fatigue and dizzy spells that she used to experience. The only negative of the device is that she is no longer allowed to participate in contact sports, because getting hit in the chest could damage her pacemaker and lead to further surgery. Less than two years ago, her pacemaker slid out of its protective pocket and pushed against a rib, causing her pain and leading to surgery to move the device back into its proper position.

"I had played soccer for five years and I was just beginning to play basketball when I got (my pacemaker), so I was sad that I wasn't able to play those sports or compete in gym classes anymore," Dawson said. "But it helped me feel better. As soon as I got it, I wasn't as dizzy or tired."

Dawson began competing for the Worthington Swim Club less than a year after she received her pacemaker, and she started running sprint races for the Our Lady of Peace Elementary School track team as a seventh grader. During her eighth-grade track season, she switched to running distance races.

"I like distance better, but I wasn't very good at it," Dawson said. "I ran the mile in our last race of the year, and I was kind of mad because I came in last place. Once I heard about cross country, I decided I was going to try it, but I didn't think I was going to be any good as a freshman."

When the Eagles' cross country squad began meeting once a week for summer workouts, 24th-year coach Matt McGowan could see that Dawson had talent and a runner's build. But after learning that she had a pacemaker, he wasn't sure what to expect.

"I've only coached one other athlete who ran with a pacemaker, and if we had 45 girls running with her, she always finished near the back of the pack in somewhere close to 35 minutes," McGowan said. "When a lot of people think of someone having a pacemaker, they think of people who are 65 to 80 years old. But Rachel is real competitive, and she's kept working hard and getting better. She's been a good addition to our team."

In her first cross country meet, Dawson placed third in the junior varsity race of the Northland Invitational on Sept. 11 in 22 minutes, 45 seconds to earn a varsity position, as she had the seventh-fastest time of anyone in Watterson's program.

Dawson then finished ninth (22:47) in the Whetstone Arrowhead Invitational on Sept. 22 in muddy and rainy conditions. As Watterson's fifth scorer, she helped the Eagles score 31 points to win the six-team meet, ahead of runner-up Buckeye Valley (52).

"I think I can do what other people do, because most of the time it feels like my pacemaker isn't even there," Dawson said. "I was really surprised and excited to make it to varsity this early, though. I want to run a 21(-minute) time and run well at the CCL and district meets. Those are my main goals for this year. I definitely will keep running cross country (beyond this season) and I hope I'll improve every year."

Regardless of how well Dawson does in the future, she already has earned the respect of her coaches and teammates.

"She's a big inspiration," freshman Hanna Merklin said. "When she sets a goal, she won't stop until she achieves it. Everyone respects her, but most people don't even know she has (a pacemaker) because of how well she runs, and when they find out, they're surprised."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Watterson boys and girls cross country teams:

Sept. 22 - Boys: Finished second (76) at 14-team Whetstone Arrowhead Invitational, behind Worthington Kilbourne (39); Girls: Finished first (31) at six-team Arrowhead Invitational, ahead of runner-up Buckeye Valley (52)

Saturday - Panther Invitational at Pickerington North

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Watterson field hockey, football, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

FIELD HOCKEY

Sept. 21 - Def. Columbus School for Girls 1-0

Last Saturday - Def. Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame 1-0

Last Wednesday - Played Bexley

Saturday - Home vs. Shaker Heights and Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown

Of note: The Eagles were 7-0-1 before last Wednesday.

FOOTBALL

Last Friday - No game scheduled

Friday - At Greenville

Of note: The Eagles are 3-1.

BOYS GOLF

*Sept. 21 - Lost to Hartley 172-174

*Sept. 23 - Lost to St. Charles 167-173

Last Saturday - Finished 12th (337) at 15-team Granville Invitational, behind champion Mount Vernon (307)

Last Monday - Competed against Westerville North

Saturday - Watterson Invitational at Clover Valley

Tuesday - Division I sectional tournament at Granville Golf Course. The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the district tournament on Oct. 12 at Apple Valley.

GIRLS GOLF

Today - Pickerington North and Dublin Jerome at High Lands

Tuesday - Division I sectional tournament at Foxfire. The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the district tournament on Oct. 12 at Bent Tree.

BOYS SOCCER

*Sept. 21 - Lost to St. Charles 3-1

*Last Tuesday - Played DeSales

Saturday - At Beavercreek

Tuesday - At Whetstone

Of note: The Eagles were 5-3 overall and 1-2 in CCL before last Tuesday.

GIRLS SOCCER

Today - Def. Westerville Central 1-0

Last Saturday - Def. Toledo St. Ursula 1-0

*Last Tuesday - Played Columbus School for Girls

Today - At Dublin Jerome

Saturday - At Westerville North

*Tuesday - Home vs. DeSales

Of note: The Eagles were 7-2 overall and 2-0 in CCL before last Tuesday.

GIRLS TENNIS

Sept. 23 - Def. Pickerington Central 3-2

Last Friday - Def. Olentangy Orange 3-1 in OTCA match

Last Monday - Played Bexley

*Last Tuesday - Played Ready

Last Wednesday - Played New Albany

Today - At Columbus Academy

Tuesday - At Upper Arlington

Wednesday - Home vs. New Albany in OTCA district semifinal

Of note: The Eagles were 12-1 overall before last Monday and 3-0 in CCL before last Tuesday.

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 21 - Def. Ready 23-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-14

*Sept. 23 - Def. Columbus School for Girls 25-3, 25-5, 25-6

Saturday - Home vs. Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame

*Tuesday - Home vs. DeSales

Of note: The Eagles are 10-4 overall and 2-2 in CCL.

*CCL contest