The sport had become the dominant part of his life, his performance determining his disposition, touching everything he thought or did. Now that his performance was terrible, his life was terrible. Never a big talker, never easy in sharing his emotions, he fought this new fight inside himself. If there was nothing wrong with his body, then there must be something wrong with his mind. If there was something wrong with his mind.... He tried all the approaches he could in this athletic age of simple T-shirt philosophies such as WINNERS NEVER QUIT AND QUITTERS NEVER WIN. He tried fewer laps, more laps, changed his diet. Nothing worked.
He went to the only option he saw remaining. On a Tuesday morning in December 1995, he took a bunch of sleeping pills and tried to kill himself.
"He missed practice on Monday, something he never did, and when he didn't show up on Tuesday, I sent his roommate back to the apartment to get him," Busch says. "His roommate called and said he couldn't wake Chad up. I went over, and we took him to the hospital. I was still at the hospital when his roommate went back to the apartment and found all these empty bottles of sleeping pills. He called me in tears."
"It just wasn't like Chad to do something like that," Judy says, remembering the phone call from Busch and the hurried trip to Tucson. "He was never a kid with a dark side. He wasn't like that."
"Swimming, I guess, was too important in my life," Chad says. "I was thinking only in negatives. I realized, when I woke up, when I saw the trouble I'd caused, the pain people were in, that I hadn't done the right thing. I saw how fragile life is."
It clearly was time for more extensive tests. The body of a world-class athlete was speaking, screaming that something was wrong. The athlete had amplified the words most alarmingly. Somebody had to translate what this frightening sort of body language meant.
The process was remarkably fast. Two days after he had tried to commit suicide, Carvin had an answer. The first giveaway was an EKG test that was abnormal—which led to another test, an echocardiogram to determine the functioning of the heart. The echocardiogram gave a diagnosis.
"You do have something wrong with you," Dr. Richard Liebowitz, an internist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, told Carvin. What should have been dire news—that Carvin had a virus in his heart, a type of cardiomyopathy—was strangely comforting to the swimmer. He hadn't been imagining things, thank you very much. His heart was pumping at only about a third of its capacity. That was why he couldn't swim.
It didn't matter that there is no prescribed treatment for the disease, that it is one of the many viral mysteries that exist, that the word transplant was mentioned early to Carvin. He had an opponent now. He was relieved.
"Mentally, everything became positive," Carvin says. "Just like that."