Blugolds give the saying 'playing with heart' new meaning

| Judy Berthiaume (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Like many college students, Blugolds Jackson Lindquist and Danny Schoen became fast friends after realizing they had a whole lot in common.

Both are part of UW-Eau Claire’s successful tennis program. They enjoy many of the same activities away from the courts, and have similar personalities, including similar senses of humor.

“Danny is one of my best friends,” Lindquist says. “Our personalities mesh really well. We get along and can talk about a lot of stuff.”

Typical college roommates, right?

Well, sort of.

While chatting at a Blugold tennis meet, their parents — all UW-Eau Claire alumni — figured out that their sons have even more in common than any of them guessed.

Both young men were born with the same heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve, a rare and serious heart condition that requires ongoing monitoring and management.

"I remember talking with the tennis coach when I was thinking of transferring to UW-Eau Claire, and he said there was another kid on the team with a heart condition," says Lindquist, a junior psychology major. “I didn’t know who it was, and I didn’t think any more about it.

“When I got here, Danny was one of the first good friends I made on the team. It wasn’t until one of the first tennis meets when our parents were talking that we figured out we had the same heart thing.”

A similar journey

While they grew up several hours apart, Lindquist in Eau Claire and Schoen in Brookfield, it turns out that for much of their lives they were following a similar path.

They both had open heart surgery when they were just a few months old.

As young teens, they both had a procedure that gave them each a new pulmonary valve.

Lindquist, however, also had open-heart procedures at ages 2 and 9. He recently learned he will need another open-heart surgery this summer.

Schoen also likely has one more open-heart surgery in his future.

They rarely talk about their heart conditions, but the now roommates say it is comforting to know there is someone close to them who does truly “get it” when something does come up.

“Every now and then I’ll ask ‘Hey, do you ever feel this,’ and he knows exactly what I’m talking about,” says Schoen, who will graduate this month with a degree in management-operations.

Both say they’re fortunate to live active and mostly typical lives despite their medical issues.

“I've gone to the hospital and I’ve seen what this could be,” Schoen says of the potential impact the heart defect could have on daily life. "For me, the only time I really had to think about it is when I had the surgery. Nobody would even know we have it except when they see the scar.”

They’ve had few restrictions placed on them, so their heart conditions haven’t impacted their day-to-day lives in significant ways, they say.

“Other than my mom not wanting me to play contact sports, I never really think about my heart when deciding to do things,” Schoen says. “Growing up, sometimes I’d get tired, but that’s about it.”

For Lindquist, his only restriction growing up was no tackle football.

“I think the surgeries have been the only real source of stress,” Lindquist says. “It’s not often I see my dad cry. That’s heartbreaking. And the recovery is interesting. But we’re both lucky because we mostly can do what we want.”

For the two friends, that means that in addition to classes, their calendars are filled with tennis meets, golf outings and, as of late, pickleball tournaments.

When he was younger, Lindquist says he was embarrassed by the scar from his surgeries and sometimes felt sorry for himself. As he’s matured, he’s come to accept that the heart defect is just a part of him.

He’s even found a few silver linings in his medical condition.

For example, two years ago, the Round of a Lifetime Foundation paid for Lindquist, his dad and two friends to travel to California to play golf at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the most prestigious golf courses in the world.

“That was pretty incredible, and something that most people won’t ever get to experience,” Lindquist says of the trip, made possible by a foundation created by the family and friends of a golf-loving young man who died from a heart condition when he was in his 20s.

Excelling at tennis

Lindquist and Schoen both were elite high school tennis players, with each of them making multiple trips to the state tournament.

Other than his coach "keeping laser eyes" on him during his freshman year, knowing that he would be having surgery that summer, his heart condition was never an issue as he pursued a sport he’d grown to love, Lindquist says.

Schoen also grew up playing and excelling in tennis, following in the footsteps of an older sister who was an accomplished tennis player.

Not surprisingly, given their success on the court, both athletes wanted to continue their tennis careers in college.

Schoen — co-captain of this year’s highly ranked Blugold team — has played tennis all four of his years at UW-Eau Claire.

He’s had a successful collegiate career, this year passing the 100-win mark, earning him membership into UW-Eau Claire’s tennis team’s elite “100 Win Club.”

Lindquist took a slightly different route, playing tennis at a private college his freshman year, before joining the Blugolds for his sophomore season.

This year, instead of playing tennis he’s a student coach, which allows him to be part of the team but also gives him opportunities to develop new skills, including his leadership skills.

“It’s really nice that I got offered this opportunity by the head coach,” Lindquist says. “It’s nice to know he trusts me and sees leadership potential in me.”

Finding their place at UW-Eau Claire

Schoen was drawn to UW-Eau Claire because of its strong academic reputation as well as its competitive tennis program.

That his parents spoke highly of their alma mater also helped convince him that UW-Eau Claire was the right fit for him.

Picking a major proved more challenging, however.

Schoen changed his major several times, but he eventually found his place in the College of Business.

“I had no clue what I wanted to do,” Schoen says. “I probably changed my major four or five times, but everyone was super helpful, so I’m still graduating in four years.”

Schoen will finish an internship in Eau Claire this spring, graduate and then work as a summer tennis instructor in Brookfield. In the fall, he plans to find a job in his field, hopefully in the Chippewa Valley.

Convinced he wanted to leave the Chippewa Valley after high school, Lindquist enrolled in a private college near Chicago.

He quickly realized that a small school several hours from home wasn’t the best fit for him.

“I thought the small private fit my personality,” Lindquist says. “Once I was there, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. I decided to transfer closer to home, where I knew I had friends and family. Right away it went well, and I knew I had done the right thing.”

After taking a couple of psychology classes, Lindquist also knew he’d found the right academic program.

Now a psychology major, he also is working for a psychology faculty member as a student academic apprentice, a job he finds interesting because it helps him see the classes he’s assisting with from the perspective of an educator. He’s also exploring potential faculty-student research projects.

With Schoen graduating this month, the two friends say they’ve discovered yet another thing they have in common — pride in carrying on their families’ Blugold legacies.

Schoen’s parents, Amy and Mark Schoen, both graduated from UW-Eau Claire, as did Lindquist’s parents, Susan Barber Lindquist and Eric Lindquist. Lindquist’s grandparents, Wayne and Gay Lindquist, both were longtime professors at UW-Eau Claire, in English and nursing, respectively.

“Now we’re continuing our families’ tradition by graduating ourselves,” Lindquist says.

Photo caption: Blugold teammates Jackson Lindquist (left) and Danny Schoen discovered after becoming friends that in addition to sharing a passion for tennis, both also were born with the same rare heart condition.