Lucky and plenty good

While the fact that Howard Dell won six gold medals at the Transplant Games of America from July 28-31 in Grand Rapids, Mich. is an amazing accomplishment in itself, it still takes a backseat to another vital feat.

The Canada native and Newport Beach resident considers himself lucky to even be alive, nearly three years after he received a liver transplant. On Nov. 21, 2009, at the age of 47, Dell received the transplant at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. He walked into the emergency room on Nov. 3 of that year and woke up 18 days later with a new liver.

"I had N-stage liver disease," Dell said. "I had days to live. I was lucky something came available. It wasn't like, 'Here's your liver, come pick it up.' I went bankrupt trying to find a cure. I had to keep pushing forward. I literally woke up with a new liver."

Proper liver function is crucial to life.

"If the liver stops, they can't keep you alive," Dell said. "If the brain or even the heart stops, there are ways they can keep you going. It's the mother of all transplants."

As a 50-year-old at the Transplant Games, competing against about 20 other people in his 50-60 age group, the 6-foot-2 Dell won the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.79 seconds. He also won the 200 in 29.06, won the discus with a throw of 158 feet, 8 inches, took the shot put gold medal with a throw of 42-0.

He added a doubles bowling medal, although Dell said he performed poorly and his partner, Team USA manager John Petrick, bowled well.

"I'm coming up on my third-year anniversary," Dell said. "I feel like I'm almost me again, I'm feeling very good. It was unique being there. You meet other athletes who know the horror, know the joy of being a transplant recipient. You have the same affection for life."

With a ridiculously quick turnaround after the Transplant Games, Dell competed in the USA National Masters Championships at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. He finished with a personal-best time of 12.22 seconds in the 100, good for fifth place. He was sixth in the javelin and sixth in the discus against stronger competition in the 50-54 age division. He said there were between 25 and 35 competitors in each event.

"I was competing against former Olympians and world champions," Dell said. "There were women in their 30s running faster than high school sprinters. It was a whole new level. I enjoyed it all equally. I was happy to be there. I wasn't supposed to be there. I'm alive."

Dell trained himself and is one of the more accomplished strength and conditioning coaches in the country. He has won 11 out of 12 possible medals at the past three International Transplant Games.

In 1988, he was part of the Canadian bobsled team that did not medal at the Winter Olympics in Calgary.

At the World Transplant Games last June, in Goteborg, Sweden, Dell won three gold medals — including discus (just more than 114-2) and the javelin (nearly 149-0) — and silver medals in both the 100 in 12.74 and the 4x100 relay (a split of 54.13).

A wide receiver with the 1992 Cincinnati Bengals, he played in the Canadian Football League in the 1990s. He has trained or trained with several top-flight athletes, including former women's tennis player Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, who retired last year, and U.S. sprinter Maurice Greene.

Dell recently had a blossoming television acting career, appearing in "The Young and the Restless", "That Seventies Show" and "A Different World," among others.

"I had a great career that was cut short due to the transplant," Dell said. "It's just another day to improve."

And another day to be a champion.

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