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A long decline in energy preceded it. A series of traumatic events followed it. But looking back, it was a moment at the 2015 CIF State Wrestling Championships that should have tipped off Rich Carnation.

Carnation runs the premier wrestling program in the Redwood Empire at Windsor High, and he had taken four kids — Beau Colombini, Dominic DuCharme, Noah Au-Yeung and Anthony Spallino — to Bakersfield for the state championships last March. The locker rooms at Rabobank Arena are three floors below the competition area.

“I went down the stairs once, and I was so tired I couldn’t go back up,” Carnation recalled.

He pleaded with the guy who operated the VIP elevator, off-limits to coaches, and spent two days taking the elevator up and down.

Things moved quickly, and disturbingly, after that. Two weeks later Carnation was at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis with a friend and found he could walk no farther than 75 yards in cool, comfortable weather. While in St. Louis, Carnation got word that his father had a heart attack and was in the hospital in Santa Rosa. Carnation flew home and his dad, Joe Carnation, died several days later. Rich then went straight from his father’s hospital room to his own after doctors at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital examined a blood sample he had just supplied.

“Normally your hemoglobin is between 13 and 18 (grams per deciliter) for men,” Carnation said. “They transfuse you when you drop below 8. I was at 4.8. You usually die between 3.5 and four. They tried to give me an IV, and they stuck me 22 times. My veins were collapsing.”

Carnation had a tumor in his colon. A UCSF specialist later confirmed that it was cancerous.

Don’t worry, this is not an unrelenting tale of woe. Flash-forward nine months and the news is much better.

“As far as the doctors can tell, the cancer is 100 percent gone,” said Carnation, known for his upbeat gregariousness. “It’s been irradiated, fully removed, and we got good sub results that say they got it all. Statistically, there’s a 10 percent chance it will come back in the next five years. But I don’t think that’s even gonna happen.”

Which would be just, considering all that Carnation has endured in the past year. Not least was the loss of his father, a person he calls “my man, my mentor, my everything.”

Rich Carnation’s own challenges have been intense. The surgery to remove the tumor was a doozy. “They cut me from hip to hip,” Carnation said. “As soon as I woke up, I knew. Nothing could have created the pain I was feeling unless they cut me from stem to stern.”

Carnation’s doctor believes he was suffering from nerve pain caused by the radiation. The tumor removal wasn’t his only surgery, either. Physicians also recommended an ileostomy, an opening in the belly through which the lowest part of the small intestine is extruded. Its contents drain into a plastic bag. Fun stuff.

Carnation lost a little bit of dignity, but not his sense of humor.

“I joked around with the kids, ‘Guys, don’t squeeze me. You won’t like what happens,’ ” Carnation said.

Finally, on Jan. 8, he had his third operation: the ileostomy “takedown” that reversed the process and put everything back where it belonged. Another round of surgery was tough, but Carnation had plenty of distractions this time.

The day after the procedure, most of his Windsor wrestlers were at the Deets Winslow Invitational in Sonoma. A few of the top-seeded Jaguars split away for the prestigious Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis. Carnation spent that entire Saturday getting updated results from Sonoma and viewing live matches from Clovis on the Internet.

“I was watching Beau’s match on my iPad,” Carnation said. “He’s losing 4-0. Then Beau gets a takedown, then he gets the guy in a cradle for another two points. I yelled out, ‘Atta boy, Beau!!!’ The nurse ran in and goes, ‘Are you OK?’ ”

Needless to say, Carnation’s illness has brought changes to the Windsor wrestling program. The head coach really hasn’t missed much time. But he’s had to learn to be hands-off. He can’t demonstrate moves, and he’s not supposed to pick up anything heavier than 10 pounds.

“The hard part is, I’m a yeller,” Carnation said. “I love to coach. I’m still coaching at matches. But with that surgery, every time I yelled it’d hurt. Sometimes I told the coaches, I can’t even go down there right now.”

And yet the Jaguars keep rolling along, racking up victories (including a win at Casa Grande on Thursday). It’s a testament to the structure Carnation has built, and to the brilliant staff of assistants he has put together — a group that includes Cody Howe, Sean Henry, Joe DuCharme (Dom’s brother), Brett Colombini (Beau’s dad), Scott Hayman (who also coaches the Windsor girls) and sometimes Kevin Guinn. Dan Dennis is taking a break to pursue his own Olympic aspirations.

“We have seven coaches at any given moment that could quite possibly run a program,” Henry said. “I coached Piner for six or seven years. I went to the Olympic trials as a wrestler. Brett was an All-American. One wrestled at the University of Iowa for four years. There’s no one on that coaching staff who’s not up to the task.”

DuCharme and Howe are what Henry describes as the “taskmasters” at practice. For now, Carnation is mostly handling the many administrative duties of coaching. And pondering everything he has learned from his illness.

One lesson Carnation received was in empathy. After the cancer surgery, he spent eight weeks on oxycodone. Before this experience, he never understood how people could get addicted to painkillers. After sensations that he likened to someone hitting him with a baseball bat, he got it.

“I don’t want to sound like I’ve got an ego that’s so big, but if it can happen to me it can happen to anybody,” Carnation said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that knowledge. But somehow, somewhere, I think I have to get involved with helping people who get caught in that trap.”

Carnation’s other lesson was in risk management. He’s 55 years old. He knew when he hit 50 that he was supposed to get a colonoscopy. Like most men, he found it easy to ignore. Now he wonders whether he could have avoided major surgery if his doctors had caught the cancer earlier, and he isn’t afraid to bring up the topic to friends of a certain age.

“That peace of mind is worth a lot,” Carnation said. “I don’t know the statistics offhand, but it’s a major killer of men, and it’s the easiest of all things to diagnose early and fix. Which means all of us men are gosh-darn stupid.”

There’s another theme that resonated with Carnation throughout his recovery, though it was something he knew all along. And that’s the power of wrestling. No athlete endures more discomfort for less reward than a wrestler. It makes you tough, mentally even more than physically.

“I guess it was my opportunity to go through it and gain the insights and humility that come with it,” Carnation said. “And I’m gonna throw a big word at you: the vicissitudes of life. And that’s why I love wrestling. I was probably a better football player, to tell you the truth. But I don’t know any sport that prepares you for the vicissitudes of life more than wrestling.”

Oh, by the way, Carnation’s hemoglobin measurement is now up to 13, the low threshold of normal. Those are some vicissitudes for you.