Steph Bruce has a congenital heart condition - Bicuspid Aortic Valve disease (BAVD) - and will be retiring after 2022

I’m just going to cut to the chase and drop the punch line. I am retiring. This year. But not until the end of the year. How do you write the beginning of the end of something? A journey that has lasted the better part of my life, and changed my life, saved my life, brought meaning to my life, and allowed me to truly live my dream. There’s a bit of a story to this if you’d like to keep reading.

As I slipped on a hospital gown a million feelings rushed through my head. The echo tech placed a few patches on my chest, squeezed cool gel on the tool, and began my echocardiogram. He jokingly said my heart was so clear and beautiful he loved taking pictures of it. About 20 minutes in he asked, “Does your dad get echos?” I told him my father died 20 years ago so I have no idea if he did. In my head I was wondering why on earth did he ask that. So naturally the last half of my echocardiogram I felt a lump in my throat of, “What was he seeing on his screen?” This was a long 20 minutes to wait for the test to be concluded. Long coming from someone who runs marathons for a living.

I showed up to practice the next day doing my best to keep moving forward. Waiting for news. Coach Ben and I walked around the lush green sports fields after our usual drills and strides meet up and he could sense I was about to break. I had been carrying this news for a mere 24 hours, and my running career flashed through my eyes, my future, the boy’s future, my past, my potential. All of it. I kept waiting. I am thankful to coach Ben in that moment, along with all the moments we have worked together for the past 8 years. In that moment he just put his arm around me as if to say we will be fine.

About 5 days earlier I had just finished 15 x a mile with 1 minute rest with Kellyn where we averaged 5:32s with our 4th, 8th, and 12th repeat at 5:28, 5:22, 5:17. I needed this workout. The NYC Marathon was 4 1/2 weeks away and to be honest the past few months had been pretty crappy. I failed to make another Olympic Team and my mom passed away. Typically I am not the type of person who looks at events in their life and dwells on the low points. From a very young age, I’d guess 18 when my dad died I had two choices on how I could react to what life threw at me. Because there is power in positivity and perspective and seeing all the good that you do have in life. So when I went to see a cardiologist on October 6 in Flagstaff and he said, “We found on your echo that you have a congenital heart condition,” I thought, “Well that's something I wasn’t expecting to hear.” And my glass half full went out the window. I walked out of that appointment and I had no parents to call. So many questions and no one to answer them. It felt very scary. Like I had just discovered something new about my life and did not know what the ramifications would be. Receiving news that is unknown and scary about your health affects everyone differently. It’s important to respect that family, friends and strangers will all hear a diagnosis and have a hundred different opinions.. But all that truly matters is how you feel and how you sit with something that is your life.

So here’s the deal: I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition called Bicuspid Aortic Valve disease (BAVD). It’s the most common congenital heart disease that affects people. I had no idea until two months ago, at age 37 that I had it. I feel very grateful that a series of things this year led me to go to the doctor, see Dr. Sarah Wyard, and ultimately have an ECHO recommended and that’s how I was diagnosed. None of the symptoms I was having had any correlation to BAVD, and that’s the confusing but also amazing part. I thought I was having physical manifestations of grief and trauma but nothing was showing up medically. The likelihood that some of how I felt in 2021 was stress induced from grief is pretty high in my estimation. But the gut punch was finding out about my heart.

For those curious on this congenital heart condition, let me explain BAVD in a nutshell:

The aortic valve separates the left lower heart chamber (left ventricle) and the body's main artery (aorta). Flaps of tissue (cusps) on the valve open and close with each heartbeat and make sure blood flows in the right direction. Usually the aortic valve has three cusps. A bicuspid valve has only two cusps. A bicuspid aortic valve may cause heart problems, including:

Backward flow of blood (aortic valve regurgitation). Sometimes, the bicuspid aortic valve doesn't close tightly, causing blood to flow backward. This is what I have going on. My ECHO said there are varying levels- mild, moderate, and severe. I have moderate aortic regurgitation. This is ultimately what my doctors will keep an eye on.Going forward I will have an echo done every 6 months-1 year for the remainder of my life. This will monitor the valve and the regurgitation going on. When it gets to severe I will have to have heart surgery to repair my valve.

A few weeks ago I took a trip out to Washington DC and Baltimore to meet with an amazing team of doctors at MedStar Health. My agent and friend Josh Cox whom I am forever bound to for all his support and help guiding my career, introduced me to Sean Huffman, Vice President of MedStar Sports Medicine. Sean and Tashera helped plan and coordinate my visit to see Sports Cardiologist Dr. Ankit Shah, Dr. Matt Sedgley, and Dr. Josh Billings. I decided to make this as much of a meaningful trip as possible so I brought Hudson, my 6 year old with me and we toured Washington DC seeing all the sights before my friend/mentor Larry ( who works with Josh and Carrie of Boom Management) picked us up in DC. I then began the emotional but thorough 48 hours of testing. Larry watched and hung out with Hudson while I had a 75 minute heart MRI with contrast, an EKG, a cardiac pulmonary stress test, an appointment with Dr. Shah, a gait analysis with Dr. Josh Billings and Dr. Matt Sedgely, and a bio patch stuck on my chest for a two week heart monitoring. After meeting with Dr. Ankit Shah and Dr. Matt Sedgely who reviewed all of my scans, my MRI, my EKGs, my Eco, and the cardiac treadmill stress test the doctors felt 100% certain there are no imminent dangers or risk to me continuing to train and race at the highest level and do what I do for a living at this moment and in the near future. What a gift they gave me. Reassurance and ease. This team of doctors I will forever be indebted to.

All this being said, my plan is for 2022 to be my last competitive year as a professional runner with my biggest supporters--HOKA NAZ Elite. I will be retiring at the end of 2022. I feel right about this decision as discovering this about my heart enabled me to gain a deeper perspective on my life and what I want from it.  I had envisioned making it to 1 more Olympic cycle and trying for 2024 but life happens when you're busy making other plans. I think the most difficult part of this announcement as professional athlete is that I am finally giving up on my dream of making an Olympic Team. Do I think I would have a shot in 2024, absolutely. Would many believe not a chance, absolutely. Our family wants to grow and I am creeping towards my forties and the possibility of more children and a heart surgery one day in my life pushed me towards this decision.

I would however like to go out with a bang. So 2022 will be called The Grit Finale, a year of training and racing all of my LAST races. My LAST National Championships, my LAST track races, my LAST marathons. In typical Steph fashion I plan to bring the sport and fans along with me. The creative team of Rabbit Wolf Creative, Ryan Sterner and Stephen Kersh will be following me and documenting the year. We plan to release videos on my youtube channel along the way. We are looking to coordinate pre-race group runs at many of my races and host post-race get-togethers. Because so many professional runners just fade out, have an injury, hang out and just quietly leave the sport we don’t get to celebrate what they did...what they poured themselves into...the impact they had. Think about many of the NFL or MLB players who you hear about their retirement and maybe wish you could have seen them play one last time. Well that’s what I’m hoping to do here. If you’ve followed my career in any capacity and feel like I somehow made a difference or impact, try to come to my last races. Join our pre race runs or post race celebrations. Be part of this Grit Finale with me. This is a sport I’ve given 15 years to so I’d like to give back and go out with a bang.

Because let’s celebrate being here and being together and for me personally, leaving this sport better than when I got here. 

If I’m being honest this news sat with Ben and I very hard and strangely over the past few months trying to figure out what it really means for us. It doesn't feel like I have an illness at all so we don't like to think of it that way and so we are not living with worry or fear. In fact we are just trying to live our lives to the fullest. Ben I am so beyond thankful for you in my life and for Riley and Hudson to witness what we share. Walking and running through this crazy life with you makes it all worth it. Finally, thank you to all my support crew, family, the Rothsteins, the Bruces, friends Claire, Steph, Anna, Nicole and Jeff, fan girls and boys (ha), HOKA, NAZ Elite teammates, Coach Ben and Jen, Jenna, Josh and Carrie, Larry, Mike and Theresa, Wes and AJ, JB, Shea and Olivia, Pro Compression, Picky Bars, Picky Crew (Lauren, Jesse, Sarah, Julia) Laird, Rudy Project, Final Surge, our Running with the Bruces athletes, my G& G leaders, our Grit and Growth community, and the entire running community. I would not have come this far without all of you in my corner. But we’re not done yet, we have this whole Gritty Year!

posted Sunday January 9th