Sheyenne's Urlacher thriving after missing sophomore tennis season due to serious illness
There was someone missing from the West Fargo Sheyenne boys tennis lineup in 2017. He was a key member who had been a part of the team since he was 12 years old.
Mason Urlacher was coming off of a breakout season and standout performance at the 2016 state tournament as a freshman. He was looking to make his mark on the court as a sophomore, until he was plagued by a serious illness that caused him to miss his entire sophomore season.
Urlacher, who is now a senior and the Mustangs No. 1 singles player, spent four months in and out of the hospital in excruciating pain, undergoing a handful of surgeries, unsure of when he would overcome his health issues.
Mason ruptured his appendix in March 2014. The rupture led to a bowel obstruction, a blockage in the intestines, which was fixable at the time. And for some time, he was back to being a normal kid.
But over the course of the next three years, that section of his bowel was slowly becoming obstructed again.
Urlacher would complain of a stomach ache every once in awhile, but he and his parents didn’t pay much attention to it, attributing it to a teenager who would eat junk food.
That brought the Urlachers to April 2017, when several days in a row Mason complained of extremely painful stomach aches and was vomiting. His stomach aches were becoming more severe, and his parents brought him in to find out he had another small bowel obstruction.
When the doctors looked closer, they saw that Urlacher had an abundance of descended, unhealthy bowel.
From April 2017 to August 2017, he underwent seven surgeries and procedures to return his bowel back to its normal, healthy state.
His first hospital stay was the longest at 41 days. And he would be in and out multiple times from May into August. Mason lost over 30 pounds during that time.
“And he’s not a real beefy guy,” said Robyn Urlacher, his mom.
Light at the end of the tunnel
On Nov. 10, 2017, a date he and his family will never forget, Mason, a dual-sport athlete, was cleared to start activities again. Mason missed his entire sophomore tennis season, but luckily, his health issues were behind him when basketball season rolled around.
He would sit out for most of the 2017 basketball season, with Jan. 8, 2018, being the first time he would play a full game that year. By the end of the season, he was a starting guard.
“It was like a breath of fresh air, it was really nice,” Mason said of getting back on the court for the first time. “It was like nothing skipped a beat.”
Despite the difficulty of trying to regain the strength he had prior to his illness, Mason always knew he would get back out there.
“That was the motivation through everything, that I knew at the end of the tunnel I was going to be back to sports,” he said.
After Mason was sick, he was weaker right away. He got back into the basketball lineup at his own pace, with the help of his coaching staff, which Robyn said she has a profound appreciation for.
“Tennis was not as difficult (to get back into) because we do a tennis camp every year,” Mason said. “So I took that very seriously and got back into the swing of things by the time the season came around. But basketball is definitely a lot harder, because it’s obviously a contact sport and a lot more physically demanding. So I feel like that was a lot more challenging.”
Looking back, Robyn said she probably should have been worried about Mason getting back on the court, but sports were the one thing that kept her son going as he dealt with his medical issues.
“Throughout the whole hospitalization and all of that, that was one thing that kept him positive, was knowing that he was going to get back to sports,” she said. “Not even necessarily playing, but we were so anxious to just get him back around the guys, and kind of be in the normal conversations and not have to focus on some of this other stuff that he went through.”
Robyn, a medical professional herself, was used to seeing this kind of stuff happen to other people’s kids. So being on the other side was agonizing.
“And with what he went through, we didn't know when it was going to end. ‘Is there going to be another surgery?’ ‘Or is this the last one?’ We never really knew when a discharge date was coming,” Robyn said.
But seeing her son return to the court was finally closure in the harrowing journey.
“Since basketball was the first season he got back to, by the time the end of the season came and he was in the starting lineup, Keith (Mason’s dad) and I just kind of looked at each other at a game and went, ‘Okay, he's back. This is all behind us now.’”
Earning the top spot
Mason is the No. 1 singles player on the Mustangs tennis team, a spot he’s worked toward since seventh grade, when Chad Anderson first became his coach.
Anderson’s squad is a “pretty tight family,” and when Mason was sick, every person on the court, from the coaching staff to the kids, felt his absence.
“When you do the lineup every day and you know that he should be in this position, and he's nowhere to be found, it makes a huge difference,” said Anderson, the Mustangs head boys tennis coach.
And in an added blow to Mason and his team, Mason had just had his best season yet before his illness.
“We were all kind of looking forward to the next season and then all of a sudden, he wasn't there,” Anderson said.
Right now, Mason is just getting back to where he would be if he wouldn’t have had to miss a season, his coach said.
“Last year, he showed signs of being there, but just couldn't be consistent with what he wanted to have happen,” Anderson said. “When you take time off like that, whether you wanted to or not, it's just so difficult to come back and play at the level that you want to play.”
But Mason is right where he needs to be right now, said Anderson, who’s in his 19th year of coaching.
Sheyenne took fifth at the state tournament last fall in Grand Forks. Mason had a spot on the No. 2 doubles team last season. He clinched the No. 1 doubles spot this year.
The Mustangs are 6-6 this season as a team, and 2-5 in the EDC.
Graduation is on the horizon, and Mason may be well on his way to follow in his mom’s footsteps with a future career in the medical field. He wants to go to either North Dakota State or the University of North Dakota in the fall, with the hopes of being a physician’s assistant. Robyn, a respiratory therapist, works in the respiratory therapy education department at Sanford.
And with college nearing, the Urlachers are taking in every aspect of their son’s senior year.
“It changes your perspective as a parent to see your kid go through that,” Robyn said. “So now we're just trying to soak up his senior season and all the activities.”