NORMAN — Melanie Oudin has played in the quarterfinals of a U.S. Open under the lights of tennis’ largest arena.
On a quiet Monday in late November, though, this professional athlete had something in common with the weekend warrior who makes a New Year’s resolution to get fit. Oudin hadn’t seriously lifted weights in two months, and all of a sudden she was pushing through an intense session.
She wound up in the hospital.
The 22-year-old American was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, the result of muscles breaking down and releasing proteins into the bloodstream, which in severe cases can cause kidney failure. It’s the same condition that sent 13 Iowa football players to the hospital in January 2011.
Athletes, both elite and recreational, are susceptible, but doctors aren’t exactly sure why some grueling workouts lead to rhabdomyolysis while similar ones don’t.
“Other athletes need to trust your body and realize if you feel something that you’ve never felt before and it’s something new and worse, there might be something wrong,” Oudin told The Associated Press last month.
Dehydration is a risk factor for rhabdomyolysis, and doctors think that contributed to Oudin’s problems. It didn’t appear to be an issue for the Iowa players, but they had something else in common with Oudin and others with the diagnosis: an intense workout immediately after a long break.
The Hawkeyes took three weeks off after their bowl game, then returned with a session that included 100 back squats at half of the maximum weight each player could manage for one lift. The set had been done in 2004 and 2007 but with one major difference — the players weren’t coming off a rest period.
An investigative committee report commissioned by the school called the workout a test of physical stamina, mental toughness and who “wanted to be on the team.” Shaun Prater, then an Iowa defensive back, described the mentality that elevates athletes to lofty achievements but can also land them in the hospital.