Jacko Gill is just happy to be alive.

The New Zealand shot putter is, naturally, gutted to miss pinnacle events next year but after spending eight days in hospital and emerging from a life-threatening heart scare, also relieved to be standing out in the North Shore sun.

Gill's major health setback came two weeks ago when he woke with sharp pain in his chest and down his arm. A visit to the doctor resulted in a dash to hospital, where testing confirmed serious heart damage.

His rare condition is myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle that reduces its ability to pump. It is commonly brought on by a virus. Most people eventually recover without complications but, in rare cases when inflammation is severe, long-term damage can occur.


"I was lost for words when I got those results. It was a shock," Gill told the Herald. "I wasn't really expecting anything but I wanted to get it checked out just to be safe. To have significant heart damage at my age is a bit worrying but there are other high performance athletes it happens to. It's just bad luck. It's been a bit of a shock these past two weeks."

While in hospital Gill discovered one in five people die from his condition.

"I looked on the internet, which probably wasn't a good idea, and found a stat that said that. It was a bit worrying in hospital but I'm extremely grateful to be here and happy to be alive."

New Zealand rowing Olympic gold medallist Rob Waddell and Hayden Roulston, who claimed two cycling medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, both battled heart issues.

Normal treatment for Gill's condition requires six months' total rest — a major challenge for an athlete who typically trains twice each day. The 22-year-old plans to have a cardiac scan in three months, with the hope of slowly building back into training. The reality, though, is it will take much longer to come right.

"A full recovery is expected so I've just got to be sensible and look after myself and I'll be back to 100 per cent in six months, hopefully. I'll be looking forward to getting back into training. It's driving me crazy already.

"I'm relieved. It is kind of serious so it is nice to be outside."

One of the toughest parts is coming to grips with letting go aspirations around the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia in April and the March indoor world championships in Birmingham.

"My first time there wasn't the greatest so it's disappointing I can't prove myself at the Commonwealth Games next year but in four years' time I'll be able to give it a good crack. I was in really good form so I'm disappointed I can't challenge for that gold medal but I'll be back in 2020 [Tokyo Olympics] and the 2019 World Championships."


Gill won two world junior titles and has produced several phenomenal training videos displaying his athleticism and strength but this heart scare continues a frustrating run that included breaking his foot before last year's Rio Olympics.

New Zealand shot put Olympic athlete Jacko Gill with his coach Kirsten Hellier. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand shot put Olympic athlete Jacko Gill with his coach Kirsten Hellier. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Gill's coach of three years, Kirsten Hellier, has never seen anything like this heart issue before.

"Hopefully it's going to be the last time we experience it. High performance sport is challenging athletes to put their bodies under strain all the time," Hellier said. "There's always things that happen but certainly for this young man at 22 to experience this from what was a tummy bug, it's really tough.

"I've learned a lot about his tenacity and resilience over the past two weeks," she said.

"He's a determined young man to get back but he knows it's going to be a frustrating road."

Athlete-coach relationships are tight-knit. Hellier, therefore, found it difficult watching Gill endure this tumultuous ride.

"I know how hard he has worked. This has been more than half of his life. It's heart-wrenching to see someone not to be able to fulfil his goals. Comm Games and world indoors were so close. But first and foremost, I'm just grateful he went and saw the doctor when he did."

Athletics NZ high performance director Scott Goodman echoed those sentiments.

"From a high performance programme perspective, we are hopeful Jacko can return and be a medal contender at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games but that is inconsequential compared to his health and wellbeing."