Amy Donaldson: Lindsey Van is an athlete understanding life
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
For an athlete, the human body is a precious gift.
Without a fit, healthy body, an athlete can't compete at the highest levels. She cannot win races, break records or revise our vision of what's possible, which is why the world's best athletes are not only grateful for good health, they do what they can to protect and nurture those bodies.
Those amazing machines will help them excel at sport. It seems only the most reckless would intentionally endanger or weaken their bodies. But Lindsey Van is not reckless. In fact, it is her gratitude for good health, and seeing what happens to an athlete who doesn't have that blessing, which contributed to her decision to weaken her own body for a man she's never met.
"I had a friend who moved in with me, Seun Adebiyi, to train for skeleton," said the Park City native. "He wanted to be the first Nigerian to make the Winter Olympics."
So he moved in with the world champion ski jumper and trained at the Utah Olympic Park. But soon after he began chasing his dream, a disease robbed him of his health.
"He was diagnosed with a rare leukemia and lymphoma," said Van. "He needed a bone marrow match to save his life."
He could not find one. Even after he returned to his home country and conducted a donor drive, he was without that precious, life-saving bone marrow. Adebivi eventually received an umbilical cord blood transplant a year ago and his health is returning.
"He is living a healthy life and has resumed his training for skeleton," said Van.
But watching him battle such an insidious disease, was difficult.
"It is hard to watch somebody dying from cancer, and not be able to do anything for him," said Van as she prepared to compete at the World Championships last week.
So when he told her to join the registry, help someone else, she didn't hesitate. A year after signing up, and just a few weeks before she would attempt to defend her title as world champion in women's ski jumping, she got unexpected news.
"I was at work when I got an e-mail notifying me as a match," she said. That was followed by a phone call. "I was very excited but did not expect to be called so early."
All she was told is that the man who needed her help was 48 years old and suffering from Leukemia. The donation will take place March 14 and 15 in San Francisco, and the two are allowed to meet a year later.
"I was a little concerned they would need me before or during the worlds," Van said. "I would have done it because to me it seems to be so important. I wouldn't be able to tell them, 'I can't because I have a competition.' There are bigger things in life than sport, and sometimes things happen for a reason."
Van is slightly concerned about the physical ramifications of donating. "But (I'm) trying not to think about it until then," said Van, who understands something about fights.
The University of Utah student was one of the women who sued VANOC for the right to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The court, while sympathetic to the plight of the women, ruled VANOC didn't have jurisdiction over the decision about which sports to include.
"I gave up on being bitter," she said. "You have what you have, and you have to be content with that. The negative energy does no good, and it just gets in the way."
The IOC has said it will consider the sport, which had its second World Championship last weekend in Norway. Van won the first Worlds last season, but failed to make finals this year due to vicious weather conditions. While she was disappointed by her result last weekend, she is focusing on the future. She knows there will be recovery time, but this is normally down time for her anyway.
As she now prepares for the donation procedure, she appreciates even more the opportunities ski jumping has given her.
"The crowds and media are increasing at all of our events," she said. "I think it's gaining popularity all over Europe and Asia. My favorite places to jump are Norway and Japan. ...I love that feeling of flying. You can't get that feeling doing anything else."
She loves that the world is embracing women's ski jumping and hopes the IOC will add the sport to the events held in 2014. She doesn't know if she'll be jumping then because she is taking her athletic career one season at a time.
"If I am still enjoying the sport, I will continue," she said.
And while she wishes she'd have had the opportunity to represent the United States in the 2010 Games, she has gained strength from the fight for equality.
"I learned that you have to be happy with what you have," she said. "If you love what you are doing, then keep doing what you love. I have learned patience that I must wait for what I want."
And what she wants right now is to give someone else the gift of good health.
"I joined the registry to try and help someone else in dire need," she said. "It seems human to me. I would want someone to do this for me if I were in the same situation."
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