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Concordia coach shines while battling vertigo

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Last season, the Concordia Women's Basketball team made program history by advancing to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Head Coach Rusty Rainbolt won't soon forget that week considering the pinnacle of his coaching career came with some serious adversity. Hours after delivering the program's first American Southwest Conference Tournament title, Rainbolt's health took a horrible turn.

"The biggest thing is my body completely shut down," said Rainbolt. "My eyes were shut for 48 hours and I was in a bed for a long time. I was in a wheelchair for a while."

Rainbolt had an extreme case of vertigo. That meant the Tornados were preparing for their first-ever NCAA tournament in any women's sport without their head coach.

"The whole world was spinning around me. That's the best way to say it. People who have had vertigo issues understand it. They said it was one of the worst cases they had seen."

Domonique Liddell, a freshman center on last year's team, remembers Rainbolt's fight.

"He had all this dizziness. He couldn't really coach. He was kind of like on stand by - he couldn't make eye contact with us."

Even though the team flew up to Newberg, Oregon without its head coach, Rainbolt eventually made it to his team's NCAA Tournament opener and somehow found the strength to coach.

"It wasn't until the day of the game that I was able to stand up," said Rainbolt. "It was a God thing. My girls would know that we were gonna fight to the bitter end."

A year later, Rainbolt still struggles with similar symptoms.

He tells us fatigue and sickness trigger them although his diagnosis is uncertain.

"We're not sure exactly what to expect," said Rainbolt. "A lot of people said it was the Meniere's disease - there's no cure for it - they don't know what causes it. A lot of people said it could have been viral. It's nothing we're gonna complain about because there's a lot of worse things in the world."

And it's that positive attitude that continues to teach his players an unforgettable, big-picture lesson.

"It teaches me that no matter what you're going through, that's not an excuse," said Liddell, now a sophomore.

Senior guard Brianna Smith also saw the positive side.

"When he went down, it obviously hurt us because we all have a really good relationship with him," said Smith, "but we all came together, we had a great group of leaders, and that really just brought us together even more."

Rainbolt, a husband and father, tries to create a family environment with his basketball teams. Fittingly enough, during this tough time, his Tornado family was there for him.

"You know, when it gets tough, families stick together and these girls here have just been phenomenal."

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