EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 16, 2013

Pelham police officer wins gold medal

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — PELHAM — Police Sgt. TJ O’Donnell can be summed up in two words.

No quit.

Whether it’s catching bad guys, winning wrestling matches, or helping his father recover from a crippling injury, it is the motto for O’Donnell, 38, and his family.

“It’s become something that we’ve clung to,” he said.

“No quit” was written on the back of O’Donnell’s T-shirt when he traveled to Ireland last week and took home his fourth gold medal in wrestling at the biennial World Police and Fire Games. O’Donnell beat three other men in the 213-pound weight class, all in come-from-behind fashion.

“There was no easy win,” said his brother Tim. “It symbolized what this family is all about.”

Tim filmed the entire tournament so they could show it to their father Tod, who had coached TJ to his three previous gold medals, in Canada, Australia and the United States. He wasn’t able to attend this year’s competition due to a traumatic brain injury suffered in a fall at home in 2011.

Tod O’Donnell’s recovery from the injury was uncertain as he was in a coma for seven days.

“When he first woke up, all he could do was blink to communicate,” TJ said. “But we’d have our own Morse code just to communicate. There was a chance that this was how it was going to be forever.”

His condition slowly improved and he is now able to speak but there were two words he said most during the recovery.

“We would say “No quit” to him, and to motivate him we’d make him constantly say it back to us while he was in the hospital,” he said. “It’s just a phrase that symbolizes us.”

Since then, Tod O’Donnell has made remarkable strides, something that hasn’t been lost on his son.

“To see him fight through that period of time has been incredibly motivating,” TJ said. “He battles every day to remember things, getting out of bed and tying his shoes is difficult. He struggles every day just to get through, but he does it with a smile and he doesn’t complain.”

Like his father, TJ had to fight to reach his goal: a gold medal. In each match he was trailing headed into the last period but somehow found a way to come up on top.

“It was crazy,” his brother Tim said. “Every single match we thought he was going to lose. It goes right with our motto, which is something he has carried and trained with.”

“If you keep yourself in for the full six minutes, anything can happen,” TJ said. “I grinded it out and took it to the third period, where I normally do well.”

The tournament was made special for O’Donnell as he decided during the tournament that he’d be retiring from competitive wrestling after 25 years.

“I knew my career was coming to a close,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I can compete at a high level. I didn’t want to compete unless it was at 100 percent.”

He gave his gold medal to his father.

“It signified a lot between our history, he took me all around the country, he coached me and was a huge part,” he said. “He deserves it, this is nothing compared to what he did for us.