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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Throwing away the end of a career, for the sake of a stranger

  • Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.<br/><br/>Courtesy photo

    Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.

    Courtesy photo

  • Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.<br/><br/>Courtesy photo

    Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.

    Courtesy photo

  • Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.<br/><br/>Courtesy photo
  • Cameron Lyle throws the shotput at a meet last December. Lyle decided to give up his final season on the UNH Track and Field team to donate bone marrow.<br/><br/>Courtesy photo

After four years of throwing really heavy things really far, Cameron Lyle threw it all away.

There will be no Penn Relays this weekend, no America East Championships the following weekend, no IC4A Championships, the granddaddy of them all, the weekend after that.

In short, no wonderful finish to a wonderful career.

Not for Lyle. Not after the call came from the National Marrow Donor Program two months ago, alerting the University of New Hampshire track star that he matched a stranger who was dying from leukemia.

So, this morning at 8, the Timberlane High graduate from Plaistow, the kid with the rock-solid build and soft heart, is scheduled to donate blood cells, two years after joining a program he’d completely forgotten about.

The marrow will be extracted from his pelvic bone. He’ll need three to four weeks of rest, not permitted to lift anything that weighs at least 20 pounds, much less spin and spin and spin again, before throwing a 16-pound hammer or shot put, on a delicate pelvis.

All this as the most important portion of the spring, known as the championship season, approaches.

“They said I’d probably never get a call because the odds are ridiculous,” Lyle said, shortly before heading down to Boston last night. “That’s why I was shocked when I got a call, but I said yes right away because they told me the odds, and I thought absolutely that I had to do it.”

Word spread quickly yesterday, after the Eagle-Tribune ran a story about Lyle

and the decision he had made to retire from track prematurely. ESPN, The Boston Globe, CBS and NBC called.

Lyle has no idea who told the press, saying, “No one in my family did it. I’m not mad at it, but I wasn’t doing it for this reason. I didn’t expect or want this. I wasn’t donating my marrow to get famous. It’s been crazy, actually.”

That’s because the story is so good.

The media wanted to know about the kid who regularly finished first in the shot put and hammer throw during his career at UNH, about the athlete who had his cheek swabbed through a donor program sponsored by the UNH football team, then went about his business of college life, with his studies and his girlfriend and his athletic career.

“I honestly forgot I was a member of the program,” Lyle says, “because it had been so long.”

And besides, realistically, what were the chances that Lyle’s bone marrow would match someone else’s, someone not related to him?

The odds vary, depending on your hereditary background, but one in several million is not out of the question. Lyle says once contacted by the national donor bank, he was told that the chances of him matching this person, a 28-year-old male suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was one in “four or five million.”

Lyle says he decided to do it in an instant, before hanging up and digesting what he’d given up. He’d qualified for the IC4A Championships, which will be held next month at Princeton University and is regarded as one of the most prestigious college meets on the East Coast.

Also, UNH Coach Jim Boulanger says Lyle has scored points in every America East Conference meet, for the indoor and outdoor teams, since he joined the program as a freshman. That streak, of course, ends next weekend, in Binghamton, N.Y.

“When he came to me about doing this and not competing, he was nervous because we were always talking about scoring points and meets,” Boulanger said. “But it’s a no-brainer. Give a man a chance at life, whether it be a year or four years or whatever happens.”

Added Lyle, “I was going to do this no matter what, but I was worried what he was going to say because he’s been my coach for the past four years and he looks forward to the conference championship every year, and that’s one of the most important meets to him.”

In the final throws of his career, last weekend at Stony Brook University in New York, Lyle had a personal best in the hammer and his best toss of the season in the shot put.

He cleared out his locker Monday, calling it a “sad” experience. He slept at a hotel in Boston last night before heading to the hospital for today’s 8 a.m. procedure.

After a year of anonymity, he’ll be eligible to sign paperwork and actually meet the person whose life he hopes to save, hopes to prolong it for a few more years, if not more.

“I want to do that,” Lyle said. “I want to meet him.”

Meanwhile, he’ll rest at his girlfriend’s place in Massachusetts, missing this weekend’s Penn Relays, the oldest and largest meet in the country.

He says he’d like to travel with UNH to the America East Championships the following weekend in Binghamton.

“I’d like to go and support the team,” Lyle said. “It’ll be weird, yeah, but it’s my last chance, and I’ve been competing with these people for four years.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

They say that the worst of times brings out the best in people. Cameron certainly makes that saying ring true.

This is such a great story. A truly generous act. His family, and UNH must be so proud of him!

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