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Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, coach refuses to be stopped

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No one who has perspired through an after-school wrestling practice or been on the wrong end of a cradle hold would describe either ordeal as easy.

Wrestling locates one’s inner pit bull and brings it to the surface. It’s a quality seventh-year Center Grove coach Cale Hoover is only too happy to possess.

Hoover lives each day with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.

While healthy now, Hoover, who leads Center Grove into today’s Mooresville Sectional, found himself going through stretches of extreme discomfort and uncertainty to get where he is today.


Name: Cale Hoover

Age: 35

Born: Kendallville

Family: Wife, Nora; daughters, Chloe and Tessa, 4

High school: Central Noble, 1996

College: Purdue University, 2001

Major: Social studies education

Favorite TV show: “Modern Family”

Favorite food: New York strip

Favorite athletes: Walter Payton and Ryne Sandberg

Favorite teams: Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs

“One thing wrestling teaches you,” Hoover said, “is that you have to be willing to suffer a little bit.”

Except that when paired against Crohn’s, no time limits or officials exist.

Simply arriving to the point where Hoover, 35, discovered he had Crohn’s disease is a story unto itself.

In July 2007, five months after completing his first season with the Trojans, Hoover was attending the Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, N.D., when he began experiencing fatigue and having diarrhea.

At first he figured it was the heat or the restaurant food he had been eating while away from home or a combination of the two.

“You figured it would go away, but it didn’t. It got worse and worse and worse,” Hoover said. “I got home on a Sunday and had an appointment with my family doctor on Monday. He told me I needed to see a gastroenterologist, and that appointment was a couple days later.

“I had a fever of about 104 degrees, and on that Friday I got checked into the hospital. The following Wednesday I had surgery to have my large intestine removed.”

What amounted to a two-week hospital stay rid Hoover of 36 pounds, his weight plummeting from 196 to 160. He initially was diagnosed as having ulcerative colitis, which, like Crohn’s, is an inflammatory bowel disease.

“They actually are very similar, but Crohn’s you can’t get rid of. If they remove an infected area, it’s still coming back,” he explained. “Had it been ulcerative colitis, it would have been gone. Done.”

Hoover’s medical issues forced him to miss the first seven weeks of the 2007-08 school year. He had a second surgery that December to reconnect his digestive system and a third that March to remove his colostomy bag.

That summer marked the beginning of an exciting new phase of Hoover’s life. On June 21, 2008, he and his wife, Nora, welcomed twin daughters, Chloe and Tessa.

“In all honesty, the first year of their life was just miserable for me,” said Hoover, whose overall health at that point remained far from 100 percent. “I didn’t get to enjoy it that much.”

An appointment at the Indiana University Medical Center that November, 16 months after the original diagnosis, led to a doctor informing Hoover that he had Crohn’s disease.

The coach now is prescribed to take Humira, which helps block the process of inflammation in the intestines that is caused by Crohn’s, once every two weeks. He also takes vitamin D supplements and monitors his diet more carefully.

“Cale’s health continues to put a strain on his overall energy levels, and he battles the sine curve of good days and bad days. The bottom line, however, is that he does everything possible to keep himself and the wrestling program moving upward,” Center Grove athletic director Jon Zwitt said.

“The wrestling program certainly has certainly not been compromised during his struggles. It continues to be on the rise. The team duplicated its best-ever (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) performance by finishing as runner-up and finished the 2012-13 season with an excellent dual meet record of 16-5. It was encouraging to watch his energy levels return. Most importantly, it was rewarding to observe the fun that he and this team experienced throughout the year.”

A wrestler at Central Noble High School and during his first two years at Purdue University, Hoover readily admits having Crohn’s disease alters the way he coaches.

“I’m a completely different person. You prioritize a lot more, and my role as a coach had to change. I’m not on the mat as much with the kids because I’m much more fragile than I used to be,” he said. “I’m more of a CEO now, spending a lot of time doing club and middle school wrestling things. I have to really educate the families in the wrestling program as to why we do things the way we do them.”

Hoover depends on the talents and energies of his assistant coaches, men such as Jamie Hays and Jay Yates, to demonstrate proper technique to an athlete in practice. Center Grove’s assistants also are more likely to handle coaching Trojan wrestlers during matches such as the ones they’ll take part in today.

Hoover, who describes himself as “being pretty tightly-wound,” will stand back and observe. He’ll be quick with advice for any Center Grove athlete seeking it before or after competition.

“I don’t think our program has missed a beat. I’m very fortunate to have a great staff,” Hoover said. “The challenge is to make sure the kids still know you’re the leader, and that’s not been a problem.”

The sense of invincibility a young wrestler projects has been known to linger when that same person goes on to become a coach.

Hoover all through his 20s was no different. He is now.

“Before, I honestly thought I would coach forever. Thirty, 40 years. I do plan on doing it for the foreseeable future because I don’t know anything other than being active and being busy,” he said.

Laughing, he added, “I tell the kids as long as they’re still a little scared of me, I’ll keep doing it.”

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