FRISCO, Texas – What was Travis Frederick's reaction last August when doctors told him he had Guillain-Barre syndrome?
"I had never heard of it," he said. "Neither had most people."
It took multiple visits with renowned specialists to diagnose Frederick, the Cowboys' four-time Pro Bowl center, with GBS – a rare but treatable auto-immune disease that attacks the nervous system. A battery of tests ruled out other serious illnesses with some comparable symptoms, such as MS, polio and West Nile virus.
Frederick spent the entire 2018 NFL season recovering from GBS, regaining the strength in his extremities that had felt numb and tingly. Just last week, he rejoined his teammates for the start of the Cowboys' voluntary offseason workout program – a major step in his plan to return for the 2019 season.
This past Saturday at 105.3 The Fan's "Mud Bug Bash" in Arlington, Frederick spoke to reporters about his eight-month fight to get back on the field.
"I feel really good about where I'm at," he said. "It's really hard to judge percentage-wise where you're at because the only thing we have to judge off of is strength numbers. We haven't been able to get to those strength numbers because I'm not benching."
Per NFL rules, phase one of the offseason program is limited to strength and conditioning. Frederick said he's on a modified workout and weight-lifting plan after having clean-up shoulder surgery and a hernia repair earlier this offseason.
"We eased kind of back into that to make sure that everything's healthy and stable before we start going heavy, but as far as on-the-field stuff, I'm doing almost everything," he said. "We'll have some stuff modified in OTAs, but most of that is for the shoulder. You don't want to re-injure something while it's coming back from the surgery.
"But as far as on the field, I feel good, and in the weight room in my other auxiliary lifts I'm doing really well there as well. So for the most part I feel really good. We won't know until I get out there and put the pads on and take my first rep whether or not it's going to go well."
This time a year ago, Frederick had no physical limitations. The issues didn't start until training camp in Oxnard, Calif., when he began feeling numbness in his toes and hands.
That's when Frederick and the Cowboys began searching for answers. He credits the athletic training staff for their diligence in helping him find the right diagnosis.
Frederick held out some hope that he could return to the field last season, even in October when the Cowboys placed him on injured reserve for a minimum of eight weeks. But he admits he also wondered at times if he could return to football.
"That thought crosses your mind," he said. "That thought crosses your mind certainly at diagnosis and again when it was declining to the point where I was having a hard time walking. Those things definitely happened. But once the improvement started and it happened at such an impressive rate it makes you think, 'OK, maybe there is a chance here, and if it continues at this rate, I don't see any reason why I can't be back to 100 percent.'"
He's indeed pushing toward 100 percent, and his teammates can see it.
"I can't overstate how important it is to have Travis back," linebacker Sean Lee said on The Fan's "Mud Bug Bash" roundtable. "To see what he dealt with during the year, some of the issues he did, and to see him running recently on the field, maybe looking faster? To have that back, it's unbelievable."
That's what Frederick missed most: the chance to be on the field with his teammates. He was around the team all last season, helping at practice and in meetings, but not as the star center making calls at the line of scrimmage.
"When you're injured you don't have that same sense of belonging that you do when you're playing and you're contributing," he said. "Even though guys were incredibly supportive and encouraging, it was completely different.
"It was a great year last year. As it went farther and farther and everybody was doing better and better, that kind of pulls at your heartstrings even more that you don't get to be a part of that."
Now he's back, and while his offseason work will be modified, his hope is to be full-go for training camp.
"I feel confident in my ability to do it," he said. "But we really won't know until I get out and do it again. I feel good in everything that I'm doing, and everything's been on schedule or ahead of schedule.
"So, I feel good. I'm excited to get back out there."