Earl Young (’62) doesn’t take no for an answer. Or at least not well.
Then again, when you’ve already twice beaten the odds – I’m talking crazy odds, like being struck by lightning while winning the lottery – you’re probably not quick to accept others’ ideas of what can and can’t be done.
The man who won an Olympic gold medal at age 19 as a rising junior at Abilene Christian University also, thanks to a life-saving bone marrow transplant, beat leukemia more than half a century later. His chances of accomplishing each? One in 22 million. Young has been the catalyst behind the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ national swab drive to register marrow donors. It began Nov. 2 and continues through Nov. 13. ACU, as the instigating institution, got a head start with its campaign Oct. 29 – Nov. 2.
If Young is the inspiration, the perspiration has come from Dr. Jan Meyer (’87), ACU’s dean of leadership development. The CCCU initiative grew out of Young’s lap around an oval of Church of Christ-affiliated universities last school year when he engineered drives at Lipscomb University, Harding University, York College and Oklahoma Christian University, all culminating with an event at ACU in April.
But that barnstorming would never have happened without the brainstorming Young did with Meyer.
After joining forces with the Dallas office of Delete Blood Cancer, an international non-profit promoting marrow donor registration, Young made it his mission to grow the global database of willing donors from its total (at the time) of less than 25 million. The first target? His alma mater.
Young wanted to bring DBC to ACU for a swab drive – marrow registration requires only a quick, Q-tip sampling of cells from the inside of the cheek – and the sooner, the better. He approached me about the idea in the summer of 2014, stating his preference to have it that September. Seemed simple enough. But with a school calendar set months in advance and my hectic broadcast schedule conspiring against his desire to fast-track the plan, Young settled for April 2015.
But sprinters don’t sit back.
Getting wind from a friend that ACU and Meyer were hosting student development leaders from other Church of Christ-related schools in October, Young made a move. He asked me to connect him with Meyer, whom he hadn’t met, so he could request an audience with those university leaders. The two became fast friends and teammates.
In Meyer, Young found a fellow cancer survivor and a kindred spirited spirit. After months of tests for a variety of confusing symptoms, Meyer was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer in January 2000. Nine months, 20 chemotherapy sessions and one near–fatal infection later, she was still standing but in a different place.
“Our family knows cancer,” says Meyer, whose parents, brother and sister have all battled the disease. “We’ve lived it. We’re survivors. And when we look around and see people who don’t make it, we live with even more purpose and passion.”
Though the two-day conference schedule was already full, Meyer squeezed Young in. His message fell on fertile soil. Soon, many of those campuses began hosting swab drives with Young carrying the baton. It didn’t take long to produce results. Within two months of the drive at Lipscomb, three people who registered were identified as matches for cancer patients needing a marrow transplant.
The relay continued. Oklahoma Christian’s president emeritus Dr. Mike O’Neal suggested Young connect with CCCU, of which OCU and ACU and about 180 other universities worldwide are members. CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra, J.D., invited Young to share his vision with the council’s dean of students conference in June. With the endorsement and encouragement from ACU executive vice president Dr. Allison Garrett, CCCU agreed to have its member schools – representing more than half a million students – host drives during this 12-day period in partnership with Delete Blood Cancer and Young’s newly formed foundation known as Earl Young’s Team.
ACU’s drive, staged at the McGlothlin Campus Center, residence halls and the Oct. 31 home football game, crossed the finish line with 617 registrations. Added to the 599 who swabbed and signed up during the April event, ACU, led by Young and Meyer, has now been responsible for adding more than 1,200 to the international donor registry – four of whom have already been contacted as matches.
When Meyer emailed the steering committee with the final tally, Young replied, “This is terrific. The largest percentage of any school we’ve worked with!”
Meyer answered, “We love you and want you to be proud of your alma mater.”
As you might guess by now, Young isn’t slowing down. He is now working with the Southland Conference to have its member schools host swab drives next semester and has his sights set on other conferences and the NCAA, itself, in addition to schools, churches and corporate America. And he’s using Meyer’s strategy for the ACU drives as the model.
Two ACU alums, diagnosed with a disease a decade apart, teaming up to help save others in the same situation.
“That’s why this is important to me in the same way it is to Earl,” Meyer says. “Paying it forward.”
“We’re kids of the King,” says Young. “That means we go big!”
Which means if he finds out you’ve read this story, there’s a reasonably good chance Young will ask you to host a drive at your place of work, worship or community. And the Olympic sprinter’s track record suggests he can run, and you can’t hide.