TAMPA — Cristi Ecks lay in the infield dirt Tuesday afternoon, lifeless.
She had collapsed without warning as she walked to the pitcher's circle at a routine practice.
Two days earlier in the same space, the 20-year-old pitcher had struck out eight and allowed only one hit in a dominating but routine outing against Seton Hall.
But on Tuesday, her heart was still and her breathing absent as an athletic trainer administered CPR. Teammates rushed to nearby fields to call for help. Finally, after about 2 minutes, 45 seconds, a portable defibrillator shocked her heart back into rhythm.
"It seemed like a lifetime," said coach Ken Eriksen, who recounted the scene in detail Wednesday. "But that's a pretty dang quick response there, from everybody."
Within minutes, Ecks, a junior from Manassas, Va., was in an ambulance, and by Tuesday evening, she was smiling and laughing with teammates from her hospital room. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had no answers as to why she collapsed or when or if she'd be able to return to the sport she loves.
"As bad as it was to see one of our people hurting," Eriksen said, "it was the greatest feeling in the world to see her smile."
It could have
USF has experience with an athlete collapsing and a more tragic outcome.
Freshman running back Keeley Dorsey died during a team conditioning workout in January 2007. A similar situation occurred two weeks ago when University of Central Florida freshman receiver Ereck Plancher, the cousin of USF running back Mo Plancher, also died.
"The university has been through a lot," Eriksen said, pointing to Dorsey's death, along with that of former basketball player Bradley Mosley, who died of a rare kidney cancer in 2005, and Sun Dolls coach Caroline Wiren, who died at age 34 of complications from childbirth in May. "Those things are always in the back of your mind. & It was good to come out on the winning side, for the university."
USF's athletic department has a certified trainer at every team's practice, and the athletic facility has six portable defibrillators that travel to practices for just such an emergency.
When Ecks fell — around 4 p.m., a half-hour into a light walk-through practice — trainer Kelly Cox was walking back onto the field after working with another player.
Cox, in her second season working full time with USF's softball team, immediately remembered her ABCs — airway, breathing, circulation — and after checking those, knew she had to administer CPR, something she'd never done outside of her training.
She gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions until the debrillator indicated Ecks' heart needed to be shocked. Ecks started breathing again on her own, and Cox felt a great relief.
"I was so thankful she was back and making a racket," said Cox, 24, who will graduate next month with a master's degree in exercise science. "I just thought that God put me in that place at that time for a specific reason."
USF associate athletic director Barry Clements said Tuesday's events were an example of proper training and preparation saving a life under difficult circumstances.
"We have emergency policies and procedures, so when we go into crisis mode, we do it with a plan &" Clements said. "(Tuesday) couldn't have happened any better, any quicker, which is crucial in those situations. If you'd rehearsed it 100 times, it couldn't have gone better than it went. Preparation is the key to our success."
Eriksen said Ecks, who along with her family was not available for comment, was in good condition and spirits Wednesday at University Community Hospital. Her teammates also weren't commenting on Tuesday's scare, but Eriksen said he could appreciate what it meant to them to see her back as "normal Cristi" in her room Tuesday night.
"We got thrown out of the emergency room by security a few times," Eriksen said. "I wasn't going to tell my team not to try to sneak back in there. They did, and all came out with smiles."