Dave Young On Becoming Barney Clark

Dave Young
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Never Give Up. You can’t win if you surrender. And if you surrender without a fight – whether that fight be in the courtroom, on the road or in the classroom – you will never know the joy of being able to say that you did your best.

As I turned myself into a runner some years ago, I came to discover that everything we do comes with a cost. My right knee was killing me when I would finish those long-distance runs. I eventually found some solace in a book written by Rob Roy McGregor called, “EEVETEC: The McGregor Solution to the Pains of Fitness.” When I discovered Dr. McGregor would be talking about his book at a seminar at Kiowa Island, South Carolina, I jumped at the chance to see him. He wasn’t the only celebrity to be part of this seminar. Dr. George Sheehan, who I believe is one of the truly great men to live in my lifetime, would be there, along with Gayle Barron, the 1978 Women’s Open Division winner of the Boston Marathon.

The year was 1983.

My running partner at the seminar turned out to be George Sheehan and … what an experience that was! Dr. Sheehan was a cardiologist and the medical director of Runner’s World magazine. George began writing philosophically tinged articles at a local newspaper and then wrote for Runner’s World. He wrote articles for 25 years. He authored eight great books and I loved reading all of them.

George Sheehan was the first person over age 50 to run a mile in under five minutes. He was paired with me at the seminar and we ran all over Kiowa Island together. One day, while not running, I asked him if he could ever be a Barney Clark. His response to me was a very big answer to a somewhat little question.

Barney Clark was a Seattle dentist whose heart was giving out when he was selected to be the first human recipient of an artificial heart. The University of Utah had an artificial limbs program and a doctor who was part of the program, Dr. Robert Jarvik, had created the Jarvik Heart. People were skeptical as to how well such a thing would work and it made news headlines in Utah when this Mormon dentist agreed to be a heart recipient guinea pig.

Over the course of many operations, Barney Clark would subject himself to enormous torture having his chest opened up for doctors to insert, manipulate, adjust and tweak the innards of the artificial heart. He suffered through this entire experience for just a few extra days of life.

The simple question – Could you ever be a Barney Clark? – brought about a complex response from Dr. Sheehan. It was essentially an inquiry as to whether or not Dr. Sheehan himself would endure such pain for a chance at a longer life. I received a response that I have thought about all of my life.

His answer was no.

He said he wasn’t afraid of death and went on to tell me about a time when he almost died while swimming in the ocean and a giant wave took him under. He told me about his sister who was dying of cancer. He told me further that she had told him that she was only putting up a good fight so her son would see her fight and would draw the conclusion that he could never become a quitter. She didn’t want her son, David, to ever give up too soon. She would use this example of her fighting to survive as her final act. Even dying parents never give up teaching their children.

George’s final line to me in this discussion was, “I want to see what comes next.” His words would become an aha moment for me.

I was thinking about this event last year when I decided to see what had happened to good old George. I Googled his name and found out that he had succumbed to cancer, like his sister, I guess. As he was dying from this inoperable disease, he wrote articles about his thoughts and experiences and became, in the process, a philosopher in death as he was in life. His children would compile those articles into a book called: “Going the Distance, One Man’s Journey to the End of his Life.”

When I discovered that George Sheehan had written this book, I went looking for it. Despite the book being out of print, I was still able to obtain a copy. My copy had been dedicated to a man named, Fred with this inscription: “As my Father would say, ‘there are no bad experiences, even on the last lap of life.’”

Perhaps Dr. Sheehan wanted to leave lessons for his 12 children, as well as for Fred, me and others.

As for me, I found many important lessons in his last book. I located and purchased other copies of this book. I sent two copies to aging friends of mine who I could count on to share a discussion. I found solace in that book that I can use now that I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is incurable but in many cases, it is treatable. I’m going to fight this battle and I will never give up.

Dave Young is an Arizona insurance adjuster and principal with Brown-O’Haver Public Adjusters. Dave Young

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