Former Olympian and professional football player Howard Dell tries to stay cool in the hot sun while talking to spectators at the Transplant Games of America at Grand Valley State University Monday.
ALLENDALE, MI — As Howard Dell took to the track Monday, ready to compete in the, his mind turned to thoughts of what might have been.
Stepping onto the new bright blue track surface brought fond thoughts of Grand Valley State.
Yet he remembers it as a college, not a university.
“Strangely enough, when I was high school, this was Grand Valley State College and they recruited me for basketball,” Dell said. “I still have my recruiting letter from 1981.”
Things have changed in 30 years.
It was more than he ever planned for.
What he hadn’t planned for was being diagnosed with the rare liver disease PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis). Then, upon further testing, he was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease, which is caused by too much copper in the liver.
All of a sudden, time was something Dell didn’t have much of.
The attention he was used to getting from athletics and film turned to medical diagnosis and treatments.
“I had the same disease as (former Chicago Bears running back) Walter Payton,” Dell said. “And I’m the only person to ever have PSC and Wilson’s disease.”
Albeit odd that having more things wrong with him may have helped save his life, his double diagnosis got him fast-tracked for a transplant, but barely in time, he said.
Now, just two and a half years out from his successful transplant, Dell is still weighing all his choices on how to continue with his life.
“I’m still deciding what I want to do,” Dell said. “I’ll always want to train the athletes but I’m not sure if I’ll go back and do the whole film and television thing yet.”
In the interim, competing in transplant games has worked well for Dell.
Fresh off winning four golds in the Canadian Transplant Games last weekend in Calgary, Dell is working through a long list of events in these games, his fifth since his transplant.
As if competing in the 100 and 200 meter races, discuss, and the softball throw weren’t challenging enough, Dell is struggling with other things this week — his emotions.
“It feels somewhat unfair, I almost feel bad,” Dell says, referencing his experiences as a professional athlete, now competing against other recipients and donors as well.
Competing in doubles bowling Sunday was a great equalizer, though, Dell said.
“I have trouble getting two pins, let alone all of them,” he said.by