MV grad Gavin Wheeler rebounds from heart procedure to help Proctor Academy on the soccer field

Gavin Wheeler prepares to take a shot for Proctor Academy this fall. Wheeler graduated from Merrimack Valley High School this June.

Gavin Wheeler prepares to take a shot for Proctor Academy this fall. Wheeler graduated from Merrimack Valley High School this June. Lindsey Allenby—Courtesy

Gavin Wheeler looks to make a pass for Proctor Academy during the fall soccer season. Wheeler previously played at Merrimack Valley, where he graduated in June. In late October of this season, Wheeler had an emergency heart procedure that didn’t keep him off the field for long. He’s now hoping to continue his playing career in college.

Gavin Wheeler looks to make a pass for Proctor Academy during the fall soccer season. Wheeler previously played at Merrimack Valley, where he graduated in June. In late October of this season, Wheeler had an emergency heart procedure that didn’t keep him off the field for long. He’s now hoping to continue his playing career in college.

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 11-25-2023 11:00 AM

Gavin Wheeler took the field on Oct. 25 prepared for Proctor Academy’s matchup with Cushing Academy just like any other soccer match he’d played in. But roughly 20 minutes into the game, a regular afternoon on the soccer pitch turned into something far more severe.

He grabbed his chest and waved his arm for a sub to replace him on the field. The 2023 Merrimack Valley graduate – and his parents in the stands – knew that something was wrong. Wheeler would never just want to come out of a game.

Within 24 hours, he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a type of irregular heartbeat that results in a rapid heart rate leading to shortness of breath, dizziness and passing out. It’s a condition that impacts roughly one to three out of 1,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Wheeler had to have an ablation to stabilize his heartbeat.

After making it through the procedure, he was eager to return to play.

“Gav’s only concern was when he could get back on the soccer field,” said Sean Wheeler, his dad who’s also the baseball coach at Merrimack Valley High School. “Didn’t want to miss a practice, didn’t want to miss a game.”

The doctor told him he’d need seven days to recover. On the eighth day after the procedure, Wheeler was back on the soccer field.

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“Hopped right back in as though nothing ever happened,” Proctor Academy head coach Ian Hamlet said. “Immediately rejoined the team and his impact was felt by everyone.”

For a team that finished the 2023 season at 7-9, Wheeler’s presence in the midfield was still pivotal. He tallied five goals and seven assists and was named the team’s co-most valuable player. He was also named a Lakes Region all-star and had the chance to compete in the New England Prep School Athletic All-Star soccer match held on Nov. 19 at Suffield Academy in Connecticut.

Wheeler also received the Marvin Award, given each season to one male and one female athlete who’s a new student at Proctor Academy and demonstrates strong talent, leadership and sportsmanship both on and off the field.

“He was an outstanding addition to our team,” Hamlet said. “Phenomenal player. Could really control the whole midfield by himself. He was the main component of our offense. He’s got phenomenal vision, tactical skill, unselfish, great passer and all-around good kid. … Always does the right thing. Always there in time. Working hard to improve every day. Never wanted to take a day off. Always just wanted to work to get better every single day. He was well-liked by his peers. He was a great teammate, and all-in-all, he was an awesome addition to our team.”

Wheeler played soccer, basketball and baseball at Merrimack Valley High School before taking a postgraduate year at Proctor in Andover. He’s planning to continue his soccer career in college.

“Gavin is one of the best all-around center-mids that I’ve coached,” Hamlet said. “He came to us very well-trained. He understands the game very well; he’s an amazing complementary player. Everybody loves playing with him, whether it’s in practice or the games. Always moving the ball, always looking to make the right play. Always working hard for whatever competition is happening. We’re going to miss his presence significantly next year.”