Don Meyer takes comfort from the booming noise coming from inside his chest.
Two months after undergoing surgery to repair a hole in his heart and replace three valves, the 67-year-old continues to stay upbeat.
“I can hear my heart ticking and valves ticking all the time. It’s almost like a grandfather clock,” Meyer said on Thursday. “They can do about anything they want to keep you alive nowadays — if they want to. So I’ve got to make sure they want to.”
He’ll find no resistance here.
The legendary basketball coach kept a crowd of more than 300 engaged and enlightened inside Lipscomb’s Allen Arena. Meyer, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer four years ago after he lost half his left leg in a car accident, popped into his old stomping grounds earlier this week while visiting his children and grandchildren in Nashville.
Lipscomb’s associate athletic director for spiritual formation, Brent High, quickly persuaded Meyer to come back later in the week and speak to the school’s 30-member athletic leadership chapel. High then decided to open the event to the public, alerting students, faculty, staff, athletes and coaches, along with some of Meyer’s former players via email and social media.
“The more I got to thinking about it we don’t have that many opportunities left probably, unfortunately, to visit with Coach,” High said. “This is something we ought to share with anybody that wants to come.”
Wearing a pacemaker, moving around with a cane to support his prosthetic leg, his polo shirt hangs off his thin frame. The last year has been rough on Meyer, who lost weight, struggled to breathe and often was claustrophobic before the surgery in July. He recently fell twice but has since switched back to his old shoes with less tread.
But he insists, “I am in much, much better shape than I was — that’s for sure. I feel a lot better. I feel stronger. I’m sleeping well too. I’d have nights where I didn’t sleep at all because I was trying to breathe. I was just thinking about getting my next breath and what I had to. Boy, that’s no way to live. It’s hard. Really hard. But I got lucky. I wasn’t in great shape going into surgery.”
Still, the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach (923 wins) isn’t slowing down any time soon.
He continues to work as an assistant to the president at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., where he spent his last 11 years as a coach before retiring in 2010. He also remains active on the national speaking circuit. In fact, he was at a leadership seminar a day after he was released from the hospital.
“I don’t have to work that hard. I don’t see any need to” slow down, Meyer said. “I can go nuts. So as long as I can go I want to go.”