| Special to the Star-Banner
Emma Truluck wants no sympathy. And the kind words offering admiration and support? Thank you, but you can keep those, too.
“It used to be when people would bring it up to me and say something nice, I’d hug them and tell them I appreciated it,” Truluck, Forest’s 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter, said. “But time passed, and I’m not going to let anyone look at me or define me as the girl who had the stroke.
“If anyone does, I set them straight.”
That quote likely surprises no one who knows Truluck.
FHS coach Jimmy Collins raves about the 2019 first-team all-county selection’s “passion and spirit,” and the word friends Camden Crews, Maddi Jerald and sister-in-law Alle Truluck came back to most was “strength.”
But each of them — and Truluck herself — say something else when reflecting on Feb. 8, 2020.
“It was really scary,” said Alle Truluck, a 2013 Forest alum who was Alle Stelogeannis before marrying Emma’s brother, Hank, in December of 2018. “We were all so scared.”
The day had been a good one.
Competing in a tournament in Fort Lauderdale as a member of the Ocala-based club team, Max Performance, Truluck and her teammates had just finished up a 3-0 afternoon and were going to spend the evening riding go-carts at a Fun Stop in Broward County.
While in line, Truluck complained about a slight headache, something Jerald said she and Truluck had both dealt with on occasion in the past. So, nothing seemed overly atypical at that time.
Truluck said light-headedness and double vision followed, but she still wanted to race around the track. So, she got in the passenger side and let Crews take the wheel.
Early in the ride, the left side of Truluck’s face began to slump and that side of her body went limp. Known as a bit of a comedian, the initial thought was that she was goofing around.
“Emma always cracks jokes and is the clown of everything,” Jerald said.
However, in short time it didn’t feel right to Crews.
“I was confused,” said Crews, a junior defensive specialist for Trinity Catholic. “It happened really fast and at first, and I thought she was being dramatic. But then, I was able to tell something was wrong.”
Crews pulled over the go-cart, and teammates like Jerald stopped. Jerald’s father, Brad, ran over and carried Truluck to where the ambulance would arrive minutes later.
A call was made to Truluck’s parents, Dan and LaurieAnn, who were in town for the event but had stepped away for dinner. From there, calls were made to Alle and Hank, as well as Collins and others close to the family.
At the hospital, it was determined Emma had suffered a stroke. That doesn’t happen very often to healthy 16-year-old athletes. In truth, it doesn’t happen to many athletes at all, with perhaps the most well-known case being former New England Patriots’ linebacker Tedy Bruschi. He suffered a stroke nine days after winning his third Super Bowl ring, went on to play four more seasons and now is an ESPN analyst.
But the Truluck family also has a close friend who had a stroke, is wheelchair-bound and now needs assistance with almost every part of his daily life. So, everyone had hope she would recover, but that was clouded with uncertainty.
The first couple of days brought questions. First, and most importantly, about Emma’s health. But then, knowing her personality and love of the game, people also wanted to know if she’d ever be able to play volleyball again.
“She used to come to camps with me at (the University of) Tampa, when she was like 9 or 10,” said Allee Truluck, who was a first-team AVCA All-American as a senior outside hitter for the Spartans. “Coaches would always say to me, ‘She has the best form we have ever seen out of a tiny human.’
“She loved being there and has always loved the sport. I couldn’t imagine her without it.”
Added Collins: “I prayed to God volleyball was not taken from her. Talking to her (by phone) when she was in the hospital brought me to tears mainly because I knew she could have died, but also because it would have crushed her not to be able to play again.”
Then, after 48 hours of monitoring (and Crews and Jerald laying next to her in the hospital bed), Truluck’s face and left side returned to normal. She was released on the third day and came home to Ocala.
Truluck said she “felt fine” two weeks later and was allowed to resume light volleyball drills but no working out (which she often had done twice daily in the past).
The time away wasn’t long, but it felt like months to Truluck, who said she enjoys watching tape but gets antsy when unable to participate in volleyball matches going on right in front of her.
And while she was on her way back, one obstacle remained. On May 5 she had surgery to correct a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a hole between the two ventricles of the heart that didn’t close the way it should after birth. That condition had been the primary reason for her stroke.
The procedure was done through her groin in the upper part of both of her legs and created an umbrella to correct the issue.
Afterward, Truluck said she couldn’t even carry as much as a 5- or 10-pound object, but “slowly, things got better.”
She was cleared to play in full again on June 1 and to lift again four days later. She still takes morning blood thinners, but that is set to conclude in a month.
And with no inhibitors, Truluck worked even harder than before. She says she’s stronger now, and the vertical leap she said was measured at 37 inches a year ago is creeping up on 40.
Then, on July 2, her dream school, Tampa, offered a scholarship to play both indoor and beach volleyball. She wanted to accept immediately but knew the right thing was to talk to her parents, Allee and a few others first.
So, she made sure those conversations happened as soon as possible, and then she committed July 4.
“I love everything about Tampa (which has won three NCAA Division II national titles, most recently in 2018),” Truluck said. “The program has been very successful, and they know me really well there.
“That was always where I wanted to go. When other schools would talk to me, Tampa was always my thought.”
But that can wait.
For now, Truluck has one more postseason and one more full season at Forest.
Entering tonight’s District 5-6A semifinal against Buchholz (being played at Gainesville High School), Truluck leads the Wildcats (12-0) in kills (133) and is second to Jerald in digs with 120.
She said she and her teammates are playing each upcoming match as if it is the biggest of the season with the only specific being “we want to beat Buchholz.”
While Truluck would prefer to live in the moment and not think about the hospital bed she was confined to eight months ago, she said the experience has made her not take even the smallest of occurrences for granted.
It did the same for Jerald.
“I could have lost my best friend,” Jerald said. “I was so worried about her, and when I saw her paralyzed, I got really emotional.
“Seeing her like that was so hard, but in the time since, I think we have grown closer than ever. And she’s gotten through this. It’s almost like a miracle recovery, and she made it all the way back when none of us were really sure she would.”
Collins and Crews both said they find Truluck’s story inspiring.
“No one should ever feel sad about what happened,” Crews said. “They should feel motivated because she’s such a strong person and a remarkable athlete.
“Little girls should look up to Emma for her athleticism, determination and strength. She’s amazing.”