Noth­ing comes easy

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

Cook flew largely un­der the re­cruit­ing radar de­spite star­ring for Arm­strong High School. Af­ter spend­ing his se­nior year at Fork Union Mil­i­tary Acad­emy, he earned a schol­ar­ship of­fer to play for U.Va.

But things don’t come easy for kids from Mosby Court, and Cook— even as a stu­dent at one of the na­tion’s most pres­ti­gious pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties — is still very much a kid from Mosby.

“It was eerie,” re­called London, him­self a for­mer Rich­mond po­lice of­fi­cer and now the head foot­ball coach at Howard Univer­sity. “Dur­ing the sea­son he’d come up and say, ‘Coach, one of my boys got shot. One of my boys died.’ It was al­ways some­thing that was com­ing up. He knew some­one in the com­mu­nity who was a vic­tim of some­thing or who had com­mit­ted some­thing. And he’s like, ‘That’s why I’m here. I gotta get out. I gotta get my fam­ily out.’”

And in­juries, one to each knee and one to his shoul­der, lim­ited him to just 51 snaps his first three sea­sons. Still, Cook headed into 2016 healthy and ready to live his dream.

Or so he thought.

In­stead, he nearly lost it all on a foot­ball prac­tice field in Char­lottesville.

On Aug. 26, 2016, dur­ing a team work­out, a sear­ing pain in his chest dropped him to the ground twice. A team trainer sent him to the team doc­tors, who sent him to the U.Va. hos­pi­tal emer­gency room.

Cook was di­ag­nosed with my­ocardi­tis. An in­fec­tion had caused his heart mus­cle to be­come in­flamed. He could have died that day on the prac­tice field. He might never play foot­ball again.

His re­cov­ery be­gan sim­ply enough. Cook had to rest his heart, let it heal.

Once that hap­pened, the work to get back to the foot­ball field was gru­el­ing. The heart con­di­tion had sapped his stamina. Cook, a pow­er­ful Di­vi­sion I ath­lete, found him­self out of breath walk­ing up a flight of stairs.

Even­tu­ally, he could ex­er­cise, first on a sta­tion­ary bike, then walk­ing laps, then on a tread­mill, then on an el­lip­ti­cal ma­chine and then swim­ming. By win­ter, he was run­ning again.

Kelli Pugh, the trainer who was by his side the day he col­lapsed on the prac­tice field — the same trainer who had pushed, pulled and prod­ded him through the re­hab of his knees and shoul­der — told him he was now fully re­cov­ered. The in­flam­ma­tion that oc­curred in his heart should not re­oc­cur. Med­i­cally, he was cleared to re­turn to foot­ball.

It wasn’t her job to de­cide whether he would do that, Pugh said.

“Our role is just to re­as­sure him that he is safe and that it’s OK for him to do any­thing he wants to do,” Pugh said. “Mal­colm had to come to that de­ci­sion on his own.”

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