The nature of the setbacks that have besieged Tommy Kurth ever since he embarked upon his college basketball career have been bizarre enough that one could reasonably ask, “Why that?”
Yet, the nature of Tommy Kurth continues to prevent him from asking, “Why me?”
“Obviously, you think about your situation,” Kurth said last week as he continued his recovery from last month’s surgery to wrap his stomach around his esophagus, which came less than two years after losing parts of two toes. “But I don’t think I’ve ever thought of asking, ‘Why me?’”
“Like most everyone in Division I basketball, we get the opportunity to do a lot of community things, so I’ve seen children battling cancer,” the Valparaiso University junior and former Penn High School star said. “It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you see people attached to an IV. I’ve seen things that have opened my eyes. I think everybody’s battling problems. A lot of it comes down to how you deal with it.”
Kurth — the grandson of legendary Elkhart football coach Tom Kurth and son of longtime Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth — has had to deal with plenty, but it seems important to him to establish that many others are still dealing with much more.
“They are kind of weird things,” Tommy Kurth admitted with a laugh when asked to consider his maladies collectively, “but my personality is that I don’t really like to tell many people what’s going on, not necessarily because I think it’s my own business, but because I’d rather listen to other people’s problems than promote mine.”
Kurth’s problems of a physical nature at Valpo began in 2009 during his freshman season.
“I had these soft corns between my toes, ripping apart and burrowing into the toes,” Kurth said. “Basically, the bones were rubbing against each other. It got to the point where it was interesting to walk to class, let alone play basketball.”
But Kurth played anyway, in pain. In fact, he started 23 of the Crusaders’ final 24 games. Overall, the 6-foot-1 freshman guard averaged 1.9 points, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals in 18 minutes per outing and connected on 14-of-39 3-pointers for 36 percent on a 15-17 club.
Corns can be a minor nuisance, or they can be severe.
Kurth’s proved severe enough that he ultimately underwent surgery to remove about three-quarters of one pinkie toe and half of the other to alleviate the rubbing on his fourth toes.
He sat out 2010-11 as a medical redshirt.
Then last August as he looked forward to his basketball return, Kurth started vomiting “every once in awhile.”
“I just felt maybe I wasn’t in good enough shape, that the summer heat was getting to me, and I brushed it aside,” Kurth said. “Then the first day of basketball workouts I threw up, and the next day again. It just kept getting progressively worse, so I finally went to a doctor.”
Kurth says he had chronic nausea due to a hiatal hernia that had forced his stomach up two and a half inches into his esophagus, severely weakening the esophageal muscles.
Steps were taken to manage his pain, but with his medical redshirt already gone, Kurth opted to play.
He appeared in Valpo’s first 11 games this past season, averaging 12 minutes, but made just a pair of token appearances over the final 24 games as the Crusaders went 22-12 and won the Horizon League at 14-4.
Then last month, Kurth underwent the corrective procedure — a fundoplication, complete with five incisions — that wrapped his stomach around the lower part of his esophagus.
One of the side effects of the surgery that seems to amuse Kurth is that he may never burp again.
One of the issues that hasn’t amused him so much is his diet. He had been restricted to liquefied foods, but recently graduated to macaroni and cheese, “which has been huge.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, Kurth is hopeful about resuming his college basketball career next season, but knows he must also be patient as he works his way back.
“Right now, I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds,” Kurth said, “and I’m going to be (restricted) in everything I do this summer, but the doctor said as long I follow the regimen, I should heal quickly and be able to play again. It’s about a 90 to 95 percent chance that everything’s been completely corrected.”
Kurth, who is 22 and on track to graduate next year with a degree in business marketing, says his understanding is that there’s little he could have done to prevent either his foot or stomach ailments.
They were simply unforeseen misfortune for somebody who in high school became, ironically enough, Penn’s all-time ironman with 95 consecutive varsity games played.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve had a lot of people around me who have been very supportive,” Kurth said. “My parents (Frank and Denise), my sister (Katie), who’s always been my best friend, my girlfriend (Angie Doerffler, a Valpo softball player) and a lot of others have all been there for me. I don’t think everybody’s that lucky.”
When asked about his goals on the basketball court, Kurth says he suspects his competitive juices are going to return, but he’s also realistic, again flashing that sense of perspective that seems Tommy Kurth’s nature.
“I’m not sure I can look at basketball goals yet. My next goal, to be honest, is trying to eat a hamburger,” Kurth said. “This whole situation has made me thankful for simple things, like eating a hamburger.”
Anthony Anderson is The Elkhart Truth’s assistant sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.