Despite his injuries, Meyer continues to stand tall

Monday, April 27, 2009 at 1:30am
Don Meyer, the winningest coach in college basketball, will be feted Tuesday night at his former school, Lipscomb University.

Don Meyer has a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen when he speaks at Lipscomb University on Tuesday night.

“You always get a standing ovation if you’ve got one leg,” he said. “That’s standard right away.”

Chances are it would have happened anyway when college basketball’s all-time winningest coach returned to the campus where he recorded the vast majority of his victories.

Now though, his presence and his message at The Inaugural Don Meyer Evening of Excellence at Allen Arena should transcend basketball and athletics — and be that much more poignant given what Meyer has endured since Sept. 5 when he was critically injured in an automobile accident while in a caravan with his current team, Northern State (S.D.).

The injuries Meyer sustained when he was hit by a tractor-trailer not only required his left leg to be amputated above the knee, it necessitated the removal of his spleen and a piece of his intestines and caused other, lingering injuries.

Furthermore, in what Meyer publicly has called a blessing, it also led to the discovery of cancer in a very early stage.

“I’ve done a lot of public speaking,” he said. “I’ll stand on one leg doing that. I have to have something to balance on, I have to have a podium or something in front of me.”

Not for much longer, though.

Eye to eye

This past Thursday, Meyer had stitches removed from the spot at which his leg was amputated. That was a significant step in his recovery not to mention his desire to return to his standard way of doing things.

“We can start shaping it for a prosthesis,” he said. “So hopefully in a couple of months I’ll have one and learn how to walk again, stuff like that.”

It’s not a quest to move about like most others that fuels his desire to walk again. It’s his need to deliver the life lessons, whether through basketball or other means, as he has done for close to four decades.

As it is now, he uses a wheelchair around the offices and during practices and a walker as often as possible in other situations.

“The best thing about having another leg is that you can stand up in front of the kids’ faces when you’re talking to them,” he said. “That will be good, obviously. (Now) I have to back off a little bit and look at them or have them sit down, stuff like that.”

Even so, he has — as with so many other things related to the accident — found some positives in his limited mobility. Primarily, there’s the goodwill it generates in others, particularly those in his current home of Aberdeen, S.D.

“People out here are kind because they have to be,” he said. “The weather’s so tough and the wind’s so strong that it takes two people to open a door anyway. That’s a natural thing here, but it’s even more prominent when you’re handicapped.

“People really want to be kind and want to be helpful when they see a person who’s handicapped or whatever it’s called, or challenged or whatever the proper word is. It’s sort of neat to notice that where you never really noticed it before.”

Asparagus and morphine

A big part of Meyer’s daily routine nowadays is filling his body with the things he needs — and the list is diverse.

Nearly eight months removed from the accident, he still must manage pain in multiple places. For example, parts of his rib cage are permanently damaged and a consistent source of discomfort. He describes the sensation as that of wearing a heavy, metal vest full-time.

Then there is the left leg. The nerve endings at the point of amputation continue to fire.

“I’m taking morphine, a little bit, and some other pills because of the nerve endings where they cut the leg,” he said. “Those are sore. I’m trying to get less morphine.”

He added that if he is late administering his dose of morphine, he still feels the nail on his left big toe, which of course is not there. That was the case late last week when he spoke on the phone from his office.

There’s the cancer too of course, which was discovered on his liver and bowels during surgery following the accident. The combination of the slow-moving nature of his particular strain and Meyer’s diminished physical state due to the accident has delayed any serious treatment of the disease. Yet he and his wife researched the situation online and discovered there were things they could do without a medical degree.

“There’s a thing about drinking asparagus morning and night,” he said. “So my wife’s got me doing that now. I don’t know if she thinks it will really help or if she just enjoys giving it to me. She always has to watch me drink it and then laugh at me.

“But they say it’s good for getting rid of cancer, so I might as well try it.”

A captive audience

The idea to recognize and reach out to Meyer, who has spent the past 10 years at Northern State, came from athletic director Phillip Hutcheson, an All-American basketball player at Lipscomb under Meyer during the late 1980s.

It’s more than just a dinner too. Meyer will be in town Monday and Tuesday, during which time he will meet with university and athlete, and he will be the featured guest at a VIP reception and question-and-answer session prior to his keynote address.

“I just think (Hutcheson) is outstanding and it will be fun to go back and see him and all the guys,” Meyer said. “It will be great. I hope it will be great, anyway.”

Few – if any – doubt it will, even those outside the Lipscomb family.

“I haven’t had a lot of coaching role models,” Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, a friend of Meyer’s, said. “With him, I just think about all he’s gone through and I just try to latch on to everything he has to say.”

Tuesday night, there will be a room full of others doing exactly the same thing.

Tickets are $5 for individuals and $25 for teams (up to 15 people) and can be ordered by contacting Brent High at 615-566-6023 or