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Kicking fatigue

Soccer player doesn't let illness keep him down

Soccer player doesn't let illness keep him down

March 17, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Imagine sleeping for 14 hours only to wake up feeling sleep-deprived.

That kind of fatigue is a reality for local soccer standout Todd Knepper.

Off the field, Knepper must mitigate his body's every move, using the least amount of energy possible.

Knepper, like an estimated half-million Americans, has chronic fatigue syndrome. Physicians can only treat the disorder's symptoms, since there is no cure and nobody knows what causes it.

Knepper, who's had the syndrom since he was a child, faces an interesting battle.

He must avoid overexertion, but at the same time train hard enough to outlast his opponents. And in soccer, victory often hinges on a player's endurance.

"It's always a struggle," said Knepper, a 21-year-old Williamsport High School graduate who plays at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. "Knowing I have to play at my own pace, at my own level, to stay in the game is almost a game."

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Knepper, a senior art major, was named to the All-Centennial Conference First Team during the 2005 season. He led the team in assists.

Knepper was a member of the Williamsport High School soccer team that made the state finals in 1999 and 2000.

He started playing soccer at age 5, tagging along at his older brother's practices.

"I was always the kid at his game running around stealing balls, kicking it from between their legs, trying to get someone to play with me," Knepper said.

His parents, Rick and Barb Knepper, said symptoms of the disease didn't appear until Knepper was around 11.

"When Todd was at a very young age, he was something very special," his father said. "Then he started to slow. We knew something was wrong. He had the heart of a lion, but he was just slower. He would wake up in the morning and couldn't get out of bed."

After he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, his parents noticed just how determined their son was.

"We've seen him play with torn stomach muscles and kidney stones," his father said. "He wouldn't let his problems get in the way."

Knepper doesn't like to be pegged as the "kid with CFS," his mother said.

"It's not something he likes to talk about," his mother said. "He doesn't even like for his coaches to know, but we go on and tell them."

Now that the college soccer season is over, Knepper is coaching club soccer in Frederick, Md. He's also working on his senior portfolio for school.

Knepper said he's been an artist for about as long as he's been a soccer player. He also dabbles in photography.

But life without soccer? That's unimaginable, he said.

"I conserve all this energy," he said. "I try to have a reason for everything I do. I wouldn't want to do something that expends all my energy if I'm not passionate about it."

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