By Ben Ferree/NPSL.com
Hunter Jumper began his career as a highly touted soccer prospect. He had an appearance for the United States U-18 national team, started and won the NCAA Division I championship game as a sophomore with Virginia in 2009, and was drafted in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft by the Chicago Fire. He made a few appearances, highlighted by scoring the game-winner against Sporting Kansas City in 2013. That was the last game he would play in.
Chicago started wearing heart monitors in preseason practice to start 2014. Jumper’s monitor quickly noted an issue, and he was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. The American Heart Association described the condition as “a rare type of cardiomyopathy. It occurs if the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced with scar tissue. This disrupts the heart’s electrical signals and causes arrhythmias. Symptoms include palpitations and fainting after physical activity.”
“That’s why I went missing my third year,” Jumper said. “I got sent to Cedar Sinai, and from there to John Hopkins.”
He was not medically cleared to play sports anymore.
“I left college early,” Jumper said. “I was like ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ I went back and coached and finished my degree at UVA, and that year we actually won the national championship. The next two to three years I was exploring different things, went into finance, got a master’s degree, and started writing for a sports analytics company.”
Then, six months ago, Jumper got some news – doctors cleared him to run and begin playing soccer again. Eager to get back into playing the sport, Jumper leaped at the opportunity to sign with one of the newest NPSL teams, the Georgia Storm.
“Every person I’ve met in Georgia in the soccer community has been absolutely wonderful,” Jumper said. “[General Manager] Stephen Bivens told me about the team…we just had tryouts and it was so much fun to be back out on the field.”
“Hunter brings more to the club than just his playing ability,” Bivens said. “Our club has been very impressed by his leadership, playing ability, and determination to make a full comeback after experiencing some setbacks due to injury. He has proven that he is willing to make the effort to succeed in the NPSL and beyond. He is exactly what we are looking for in a player during our first season and we can’t wait to see how the 2021 season unfolds.”
Coming back after such a long layoff isn’t easy, especially now that Jumper is on the other side of 30.
“My feet, vision, they’re there, I’m seeing the field really nice, but getting the lungs there is going to be a process,” Jumper said. “Six years without soccer…it taught me things I needed to know, but waking up at 6:00 am and going home at 6:00 pm with a suit and tie all day, no sports, is pretty brutal for someone who’s only thinking about sports.”
Jumper isn’t going to let concerns about the pandemic prevent his return to the pitch.
“Six years was long enough,” Jumper said. “Being back on the field, there’s nothing like it.”
Photo Credit: Virginia Athletics Media Relations and Chicago Fire FC