Health scare has given former Rochester resident, basketball coach Brad Vaught a new lease on life

Feb. 27—MASON CITY, Iowa. — The 60-minute drive from Albert Lea to Rochester on Christmas night was life changing for Brad Vaught.

It was done in an ambulance, the 54-year-old Vaught unsure what his future held or if he even had one.

Earlier that day, blinding headaches, profuse sweating and vomiting had him checking himself into an Albert Lea emergency room where he was diagnosed with an aneurysm. Those can lead to strokes and death.

Now, he was being whisked to Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saints Marys Campus.

"That ride in the ambulance, that was life changing for me," said Vaught, the head women's basketball coach at North Iowa Area Community College and a former longtime Rochester resident. "You wonder what is going to happen and if I will be the same person. And I remember as I rode there, I was thinking about an article I'd read by a pastor who was talking about, 'Don't waste your cancer.'"

Translation: When presented with a potentially life-ending or changing diagnosis, evaluate your life and priorities.

Vaught did that as he lay in that ambulance bed, taking stock of himself.

"I didn't want to 'waste my aneurysm,'" Vaught said. "When a tough situation happens in life, you want to learn and grow from it. It was good for me to be thinking things through. Where am I at? How can I do a better job? It was really hard, but I look back on it and am thankful for it."

Fortunately for Vaught, he's had ever since to put everything he'd taken stock of into play. He didn't "waste his aneurysm."

And by Mayo Clinic projections, he's going to have a long life to continue to apply his new plans.

"They let me know that the vein where the aneurysm was had not ruptured," Vaught said. "And they also told me that it was a vein that hardly ever ruptures. They put me on some medicine. They were happy with where the aneurysm was in my neck. They'll continue to do scans and watch it, but they told me to go ahead and coach, that they'll help me manage this."

Vaught, who along with wife Brenda is the father of three children, one with special needs —24-year-old Brody, who Brad makes sure spends ample time with this NIACC team — took 11 days off from coaching after that trip to Mayo Clinic.

It was one of the toughest and most restless stretches of his life. Other than being with his family, there is nowhere Vaught would rather be than in a gymnasium with his players.

He's in love with coaching and it goes so much deeper than the game itself.

An exuberant type whose lifeblood is interpersonal connections, Vaught has found the perfect home at North Iowa Area Community College. He has dual roles there, as its fourth-year women's basketball coach as well as its Student Development Associate, selling NIACC through a horde of college fairs he puts on at Iowa and Minnesota high schools.

"They give me tons of college fairs to go to and it's fun," Vaught said. "This is a great school to sell and I get to meet all kinds of people. I love it."

What he cherishes even more, though, is coaching.

"Coaching combines the two things that I love most, working with young people and basketball," said Vaught, a former mental health practitioner in the Rochester Public Schools. "Putting those two things together, I want to do that as long as I can."

That first day back in the gym with his players, Vaught all but dropped to his knees in thanks.

To call this Vaught's happy place doesn't go far enough.

"That first practice back, after I'd been cleared (by his doctors), that was the most favorite practice that I've ever had," Vaught said.

Vaught gathered his players during it for a picture, for posterity sake. He's beaming in it. The same goes for his players who were thrilled to have him back.

They'd missed Vaught as much as he'd missed them.

"We didn't know what was going to happen with him," said point guard Alexis Schroeder, a freshman from Caledonia who along with fellow southeastern Minnesota products Tori Miller (Goodhue) and Keeley Steele (Stewartville) has helped lead NIACC to a sterling 21-7 record. "Everything was up in the air. It made us realize how much he makes our team compete, not having him there. All of that energy he brings, we respond well to it. Every day that he is in the gym, he brightens our day."

The effervescent Vaught didn't seem the type to need a new lease on life. But he got one anyway.

He's running with it.