Video: Heat brutal on student athletes

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/19/2006 7:34:56 PM ET 2006-06-19T23:34:56

SAN ANTONIO — They are grueling workouts in brutal heat. It was 95 degrees Monday at one summer football camp, deep in the heart of Texas.

For athletes in many outdoor sports, this is high season for heatstroke — what can be a life-threatening emergency when the body's cooling system shuts down.

Last summer was a close call for 17-year-old Carson Coulter during a pre-season practice of the West Texas team made famous in the movie "Friday Night Lights."

"I was breathing extremely heavily and the next thing I know I was just on the ground," he recalls. "I remember just being extremely thirsty and very exhausted and tired with all the running and practicing we went through that day."

Heatstroke has killed more than two dozen athletes over the last decade, including Minnesota Viking Corey Stringer in 2001.

The deaths, experts say, could have been prevented.

"Athletes suspected of having heatstroke need to be immediately pulled from their practice or competition and rapidly cooled — typically through ice water bath immersion," says Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a sports medicine expert at the University of Washington.

Confusion and nausea are symptoms that sometimes appear too late.  At a body temperature of 105 degrees, internal organs start shutting down.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are using thermometer pills, which send temperature readings to a handheld device monitored by a trainer. They're effective, but expensive — $40 per pill.

"Heatstroke is something that occurs so quickly and can cascade downhill so rapidly that we feel that there's a definite need to be proactive," says team doctor Lonnie Albers.

At greatest risk for heatstroke are children. Experts say their bodies aren't as efficient at cooling themselves, and kids are less likely to know when they're in danger.

As young players chase dreams of gridiron glory, their most formidable opponent this season may be the heat.

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