Grateful Friedgen resting easier

His sleep disorder remedied, top Terp finds new energy

Maryland Football

The Coach

July 25, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. -- About two years ago, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen repeatedly found himself nodding off behind the steering wheel on his way home from College Park - most often after a typically long day during the season that began around 5 a.m. and ended after 11 p.m.

"I think people thought I was drunk," Friedgen said yesterday to a small group of reporters at his interview table at the ACC Football Kickoff. "I'd be at a red light and nod off."

He has since traced the cause to sleep apnea, a condition that stops breathing for 10 to 30 seconds numerous times a night during sleep. The disorder is associated with overweight people and is frequently undiagnosed.

It wasn't until Friedgen's wife, Gloria, tracked down a device to help him breathe that the Terrapins' coach began to sleep through the night. The combination of that and new eating habits have helped Friedgen lose about 35 pounds and enter this season with a newfound energy, he said.

"I put that thing on and it's like you turned on a switch," Friedgen said of the nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which helps keep his airway open during sleep. "I'm out. I'm like another man now. I'm ready to go 20 hours a day."

Friedgen has always been uncomfortable talking about his health, but yesterday's discussion began when one reporter asked him about his reaction to the death of Northwestern football coach Randy Walker. At 52, Walker died June 29 of a heart attack reportedly caused by a condition called myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Friedgen said he didn't know Walker well, and that he's "very sorry for him and his family, but it's not going to change what I do."

"I'm trying to lose weight and stay in shape," Friedgen said, noting he "slipped" a little recently while on vacation at his lake house in Georgia. "I really haven't felt this good in a long time. I don't have any aches and pains, I'm sleeping well.

"We live in a tough profession," he said. "I enjoy what I do. The easy part is the football. What's work for me is getting kids to go to class, helping them make the right decisions ... dealing with their moms. That's where the stress comes."

Friedgen said he was tested for sleep apnea and once woke up 97 times in an hour.

"I only sleep four hours a night anyway," he said.

Friedgen said he also has been eating five small meals a day and is walking 30 to 45 minutes every day.

"I'm not hungry and I don't crave a lot," he said.

Jerry Punch, a physician, broadcaster and friend of Friedgen's, was at yesterday's news conference and chimed in when the coach asked him to explain how the CPAP device worked. He later said Friedgen doesn't eat a lot, but "in the old days" often resorted to coffee and snacks for sustenance throughout the day.

"People have no idea, given some of the things he's had to overcome, how hard, how diligent he's worked," Punch said. "He's a tireless worker.

"He looks the best I've seen Ralph in five years. He's energetic, he's healthy, he's smiling, he's got color. He looks rested, and teams breed off the energy of head coaches. If that's any indication, look out for Maryland this year."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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