He also knows how fortunate he and his family are that his 11-year-old son, Jordan, is still able to enjoy the world through a child’s eye.
“As a dad and a coach,” Dwayne said, “I can’t count the times that me and (North Cobb varsity wrestling) coach (Sean) Hage thought Jordan, towards the end, was just getting out of shape. I just pushed him harder. I almost killed my son. Not knowing any better, I really could have.
“That’s what I think happens to those kids who are 13 or 14 years old playing basketball or football and all of sudden they just drop.”
It almost happened to Jordan, too.
* * *
Jordan Hardin stared wrestling when he was 6 years old, after his father got him interested in the sport.
Hardin also discovered at the age of 5 that he had exercise-induced asthma. He took his medication regularly, used an inhaler throughout his wrestling career and swam in the offseason to help stay in shape.
His breathing problem didn’t keep him from being the best he could be.
Hardin accumulated more than 100 medals as a junior wrestler, with at least 70 golds. He placed three times at the Georgia little kids state meet and placed four times at the national level.
Hardin seemed on his way to being a future member of the North Cobb varsity wrestling program, even working out with the varsity and junior varsity wrestlers sometimes — teaching the more inexperienced wrestlers like any other coach. In return, Jordan received a varsity letterman’s jacket.
“This is the sport he chose,” Dwayne Hardin said. “He’s only 60 pounds, but he was a tough, little kid on the mat. We traveled all the time and went to tournaments almost every weekend.”
In October of last year, the younger Hardin was participating at a wrestling meet in Fort Bragg, N.C. He had been having difficulty breathing prior to the meet and often used his inhaler to help him catch his breath.
This time, however, things seemed different.
“He was using his inhaler more and more and was still feeling tired,” Hardin’s mother, Hellen, said. “He was saying that he couldn’t breathe and that his chest was tight. We just assumed the reason for (his breathing problems and chest tightness) was because of the asthma and the inhaler wasn’t helping.
“He was really tired last year and didn’t do as well at state last year, and we assumed it was because of the asthma.”
Hardin’s parents took him to see a doctor about his asthma, believing it would result in another run-of-the-mill test, but the doctor requested further evaluation. Hardin was put on a heart monitor and scheduled for a stress test. He had been on a bike for two minutes during the stress test when the abnormality showed up.
Testing determined that Hardin had catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, a rare heart disease that causes a heart rhythm disorder. It can be fatal or near-fatal in up to 31 percent of those diagnosed with the disease.
“His heart beats irregularly,” Hellen Hardin said. “It can cause sudden, lethal cardiac arrest. A lot times, there are no signs or symptoms until the cardiac arrest.”
Jordan’s wrestling career was over.
“I felt mad,” said the fifth-grader. “After a couple of weeks, I got to where I could at least watch it again, but it didn’t feel the same because, normally, those people would have been cheering for me.”
Hardin was immediately admitted to Children’s at Egleston hospital, where stayed for a week while further tests were done. He left the hospital, only to return a week later for surgery.
Hardin left the hospital with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, which detects arrhythmias and responds with electrical signals to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.
He was left with an incision on his chest, able to feel the hard ICD device in his chest.
“I couldn’t do anything for three months,” said Hardin, who also can’t take routine P.E. classes. “Now, I can run and play with friends sometimes, but if it gets tough to breathe, I have to stop and pace myself.”
Dwayne Hardin said the biggest difference for the family “was the change.”
“We thought we were going in for a routine test, and it changed us like that, he said. “It was heart-wrenching for (Jordan). This is all he did. I saw what it was doing to him. Just, all of sudden, he had to do this other stuff, but he was basically healthy in other ways.”
Hellen Hardin said it was “devastating.”
“That was our life,” she added. “It was more than a sport to us and to Jordan, and we had done it for so long. That was our social life, our friends, everything.
“It was a big shock to us. We went in to do a test and, the next thing you know, we find out when he does the stress test that things are going to change right then and there.”
The family acknowledged that Jordan’s asthma may have saved his life.
“I think, for sure, yes, it could have,” Dwayne Hardin said. “I agree with that. If he didn’t have the asthma problem, we probably would have never found this out. We thought we were going to a 45-minute test. All his life, he had a little bit of a breathing problem, so I thought that’s what it is, but it wasn’t.”
* * *
Hardin’s heart condition was also a change for Hage, who also had his amateur wrestling career cut short due to a neck injury while training for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
“Jordan was very talented,” Hage said. “His greatest skill was his commitment to wrestling. He did the workouts like the high-school kids and was always ready to go. He had tremendous drive and would have been a great wrestler in our program.
“He was a role model, even for an 11-year-old. It kills me for him because I know how much he truly loves the sport. He was a candidate to be a four-time state champion, so it’s crushing for him and for our program.”
With wrestling no longer in the picture, Hardin’s doctors have allowed him to take up golf as his newest sport. He’s currently taking lessons at Cobblestone Golf Course in Acworth.
“Now, I can do a sport with everybody instead of sitting around watching TV,” said Hardin, who said that he’s getting used to his situation, and may feel comfortable returning as a next season as a coach of sorts, especially since his friends enjoyed having him around.
But there does remain the chance that Hardin could prosper at his new sport.
“If he takes the work ethic he had in wrestling and applies it to golf, I think we could have the next Tiger Woods,” Hage said.