A story to tell

Serious accident doesn't dampen spirts of JUCO speaker Don Meyer

Don Meyer has ties to Grand Junction, having played for the Grand Junction Eagles baseball team in the 1960s. Meyer will be the keynote speaker for the 2012 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Don Meyer has vivid memories of playing baseball for the Grand Junction Eagles.

“There was a lion in right field,” he said of the Grand Junction Zoo that used to be part of Lincoln Park. “I remember Rick Miller from Michigan State, he ended up playing with the Red Sox, he would hit balls into the parking lot and the lion would be upset. That was kind of funny.”

Meyer’s calling wasn’t baseball — it was coaching basketball, and it served him well.

Until recently, Meyer had won 923 games, more than any other men’s basketball coach in NCAA history.

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski passed Bob Knight’s Division I record of 902 this season and broke Meyer’s all-time mark last month; he now has 926 wins.

Meyer will tell his story in Grand Junction on May 25 at the keynote speaker at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series tournament banquet.

What a story he has to tell.

“I keep getting different ideas and putting them in a folder or in my book and eventually the talk shapes up,” he said.

“It really shapes up about a half-hour before, once I talk to people and know where they’re coming from.”

Meyer retired from coaching at Northern State (S.D.) University after the 2009-2010 season, two years after he was nearly killed in a head-on collision with a semitrailer truck hauling 90,000 pounds of grain.

The wreck, on Sept. 5, 2008, broke every rib on the left side of his body, tore the diaphragm away from the bone in his chest and caused internal injuries.

It also shattered the lower part of his left leg, which was amputated below the knee.

That, however, wasn’t the extent of what doctors in Sioux Falls, S.D., found.

Meyer was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, small, slow-growing tumors usually in the gastrointestinal system. Doctors found the tumors when they were removing his spleen and repairing the damage in his chest and ribcage.

Two months after the wreck, Meyer left the hospital. He was at work the next morning and coached that season in a wheelchair.

“I probably left a little early but from a mental standpoint, it was important to get out,” he said.

“I wanted to see our kids; I needed to see and watch them a little bit.”

Meyer has received the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at ESPN’s ESPY Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Hall of Fame, and he will be recognized at this year’s NCAA men’s Final Four.

He’ll speak at the 75th anniversary of the NAIA men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City, Mo., and keeps busy with speaking engagements around the country.

“It’s better than not doing anything,” he said Wednesday as the snow was flying in Aberdeen, S.D., where he lives with his wife, Carmen, who he calls “the boss.”

Jamie Hamilton, the JUCO chairman, was at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention this winter and heard Meyer speak.

He had read Buster Olney’s book on Meyer, “How Lucky You Can Be,” and was impressed.

When Duane Banks, the longtime Iowa baseball coach who lives in Grand Junction, told Hamilton he played baseball with Meyer for the Eagles, it was a no-brainer to invite him to speak at JUCO.

“The good thing about baseball people, they all remember each other,” Hamilton said. “We’re very pleased Coach Meyer is coming to speak at our banquet, and Duane was very helpful with that. He’ll have a good message.”

Meyer pitched — and coached the pitchers — for the Eagles in the late 1960s.

Meyer doesn’t dwell on the accident or his cancer.

“The big thing that really helps you is if you’re trying to help somebody else,” he said. “The more you’re busy and help other people, the less you think about what you’ve got.

“Praying for yourself ... you’re better off praying for other people. Obviously you want to be healthy and be around and help more people, but focus on other people.

“You’ve gotta be a point guard, take your mind off yourself. How can we make all these other people more effective? You need to take a serve-and-leadership approach.”


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