Athletics: Tromans sets out with heart of oak

Mike Rowbottom on one runner's will to overcome his misfortune
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The Independent Online
The world cross-country championships, which take place at Turin tomorrow, have already inspired one outstanding performance. Glynn Tromans, a 28-year-old marketing lecturer from Coventry, makes his British debut in the Italian city just 10 months after undergoing two serious heart operations.

This time last year, Tromans still thought he was an asthma sufferer. Troubled increasingly by breathlessness and sudden exhaustion, he had been advised the problem was caused by dust mites. Accordingly, he bought a special cover for his mattress, ripped the carpets up and got to work with the sander.

It was a false diagnosis. After suffering between 70 and 80 debilitating attacks, Tromans - at the prompting of the British cross-country team doctor, Frank Newton - consulted a cardiologist. He was told his problem was not asthma, but tachycardia, a condition in which extra nerve pathways in the heart cause oxygen deficiency and a racing pulse.

Tromans' career was in the balance. But he makes light now of the operations he underwent on 30 April and 13 May last year. "The main problem was in the 15 months or so beforehand when nobody knew what was wrong with me," Tromans said.

He had begun to train with a heart monitor in 1995, and three or four times a week he witnessed his heart rate jumping from around 145 beats a minute up to 220. "I would feel a bit of tightness in my chest," he recalled, "and two seconds later the bleepers would be warning me that my pulse had leapt up. I would feel like I had just finished an 800 metres race - swimming in lactic acid and with no drive in my arms or legs.

"Once I knew I had a heart condition which could be corrected through an operation, it was just a matter of getting it done as soon as possible.

"I think it was far more traumatic for my fiancee, Lisa, my parents and Dave Dix, who has coached me for 13 years. He was more nervous about it than I was. But I never had any second thoughts - apart from once, a minute before they wheeled me off to the operating theatre."

As Tromans lay on his trolley, a nurse presented him with a form requiring his agreement to be fitted with a pacemaker if anything went wrong with the procedure. The chances were said to be no more than three per cent, but such an eventuality would have meant the end of his competitive career, if only because of the drugs he would have had to take to maintain the device.

"It was a strange experience," Tromans said, "because both operations were done under local anaesthetic and I could see all the TV screens and bleeping monitors. For some reason I sat up during the second operation and the nurse asked if I'd mind lying down again because I was having live wires passed through my heart."

Sensibly, he complied. So swift was his recovery that he was picked for the European Cross-country Championships last December, only to be forced to drop out with a calf injury.

Tomorrow, three weeks to the day that he claimed the fourth automatic qualifying place in the British trials, he is due to take his career to a new level in what is only his second overseas race.

After earning his world cross place at Luton - watched by his girlfriend, parents, grandparents and dog Morris - Tromans was likened by Bud Baldaro, the Great Britain coach, to a Sunday football player making the Premiership in his late twenties.

Tromans considers that analogy a little far-fetched, given that he has previously represented England. "I think I have always had the potential to be an international runner. But there is no question that this is a significant step up for me."

One of the more remarkable aspects of Tromans's career is the way he has performed, even while his training has been regularly disrupted. In 1995, for instance, he w as placed fourth in the National Cross-country Championships, won the Inter-Counties title and finished second to Keith Cullen, the trials winner at Luton, in his England track debut over 3,000m, despite suffering an attack in the warm-up.

As he looked forward to Turin, Tromans' reaction was one of embarrassment over the attention he has received at the expense of Cullen or Britain's European cross-country champion, Jon Brown. But there was no disguising his excitement. "This is very much a start for me," he said. "I am hoping to transfer all this into a summer of racing 5,000m on the track."

One troubling thought remains, however. Morris, who arrived in the Tromans household from a dog rescue society six weeks ago, has given the sanded floorboards what might be termed a distressed look. "He's scratched them to hell," Tromans said. He didn't sound too put out about it.