Cameron Lyle didn’t mean to be a hero. He simply wanted to be the best shotputter he could be.
“I love throwing the shot put,” said the 22-year-old Lyle, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire last May. “I just love the sport.”
But, the 22-year-old now understands better than anyone that life is much more important than sports.
The Plaistow, N.H. native, former Timberlane Regional track star and now 2013 Eagle-Tribune Sportsman of the Year, not only donated bone marrow to someone he didn’t know, but he had to miss the final track championship meet of his life, the America East Track & Field Championships, to do it.
“The funny thing is that was going to be the biggest meet of my life,” recalled Lyle, of the event at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y. “I was the No. 1 seed (in the shot put). I was in the best shape of my life. It was, hopefully, going to be my first gold medal after winning a lot of silvers, seven to be exact.”
But three weeks before the meet “Be The Match” came calling, two years after he attended a UNH football team-sponsored event, in which they took a mouth swab to find potential bone marrow donors.
“All of the coaches told their athletes,” said Lyle. “I didn’t really think anything about it. It was pretty easy. They took a swab from inside my mouth and it was over.”
So he thought.
In April of 2013, more than two years after the innocent “swab,” Lyle was contacted by “Be The Match.”
“I honestly had forgotten about it,” said Lyle. “Someone from the registry told me I was a possible match for this particular person. It was me and two other people. And I was the youngest by about 15 or 20 years.”
Lyle went to a local lab near the UNH campus in Dover, N.H. for additional blood work. Two weeks or so later, he got the news.
“I was a perfect match,” said Lyle. “I was shocked.”
Next came the tough part.
He also had to tell his track coach, Jim Boulanger, about his dilemma with the conference meet coming soon.
“Cam is usually full of life, but this day he came into my office with a look on his face, like something was wrong,” recalled Boulanger. “He said, ‘We gotta close the door.’ I was thinking he got busted for drinking and had to be suspended.”
Lyle told Boulanger he wouldn’t be able to compete the rest of the season.
“He told me there was a one-in-five million chance that there would be a match for this young man who had a rare form of leukemia and that he was a perfect match,” said Boulanger. “He was all nervous about what to do. I told him there was only one answer: ‘You’ve got to give the man your bone marrow. You’ve spent your entire life competing. This is a chance to save someone’s life.’”
Lyle was apprehensive about telling his teammates, all of whom had taken a pledge a month earlier to improve the fortunes of the program.
Of course, they were all behind Lyle, which included a special moment during the last throw of his last meet at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University on April 20, 2013. The entire men’s and women’s team surrounded Lyle for his final shot put attempt of his career.
“It was incredible,” recalled Boulanger. “It was a true sign of the support he had from everyone.”
While he had committed mentally, now came the really hard part.
Lyle spent a full day at Mass. General Hospital in Boston for testing and to draw blood, which would eventually be “donated” back to himself when the bone marrow is drawn, painfully, from his body.
On April 24, Lyle was back at Mass General at 6 a.m., going through EKG and chest X-rays. Then came the difficult, painful process of extracting the bone marrow.
Doctors stuck a needle into his pelvic bone 200 times to draw nearly two quarts of bone marrow.
“But the worst pain was from the five big needles they pierced through muscle,” said Lyle. “Because I’ve been lifting and in prime shape, it was painful.”
The bone marrow was immediately shipped to the unnamed hospital where the patient, suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia — all Lyle knew was that the man was 28 years old and had a young daughter — awaited its arrival.
Lyle spent 34 hours in the hospital in all. And he was groggy, to say the least, for at least a week. He had acute pain in a few areas of the body, including his feet, for about month.
“It was really hard putting on shoes,” he recalled.
In October, the NCAA didn’t let his incredible unselfish deed go unnoticed. Lyle was awarded the famed NCAA Award of Valor, which has only been awarded 15 times since 1974.
“Cameron’s act of selflessness by forgoing the end of collegiate career to help give life to a complete stranger is truly inspiring and well deserving of this honor,” said America East Commissioner Amy Huchtausen.
Lyle said his bone marrow finally fully replenished itself in his body about a month ago. He started lifting weights recently, trying to get back to where he thinks his 22-year-old body should be.
His physical struggles the last few months, he said, was a small price to pay for what has happened since.
The man who received Lyle’s bone marrow has seen his body become clean of the rare leukemia.
People from “Be The Match” are setting up a meeting between Lyle and the now healthy man on May 1, a year after receiving the bone marrow. It also happens to be Lyle’s birthday.
“People see Cam and they see this tough-looking young man, a guy us old guys would call a ‘lug,’” said Coach Boulanger. “But underneath that exterior is a special, kind, caring person. He would do anything for someone in need. And that’s what he did ... It’s a great example of you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Lyle credits his family for their support and influence. It includes his father, Jeffrey Lyle, who resides in Flordia, mother Christine Sciacca, of Plaistow, brother, Joshua Gelotte, who is serving overseas in the Air Force, Danica Gelotte, a senior at Gilford High and Jessica Lyle, who works at Lawrence General Hospital. Lyle, who is interim marketing director at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook in Gilford, N.H., where he currently resides, has spoken to a few groups about his experience, which many people equate to heroism.
“The message I want to spread,” said Lyle, “is that there are bigger things in life than winning.”
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cam Lyle's top performances at UNH 2013 Outdoor Highlights 3rd in the hammer throw at Maine; 46.19m 2nd in the Shot Put vs Maine and Holy Cross; 14.44m 2012-13 Indoor Highlights 3rd in the shot put at America East Championships, 52-06.00 2nd in the weight throw at America East Championships, 58-03.25 1st in the weight throw against Holy Cross, 16.70m 1st in the shot put against Holy Cross, 14.59m 1st in the weight throw against Maine, 16.79m 3rd in weight throw at the Jay Carisella Invitational, 53-11.75 2012 Outdoor Highlights Fifth in the shot put at the America East Championships; 50-01.75 Third in shot put at Holy Cross Quad-Meet; 47-07.00 2011-12 Indoor Highlights Second in weight throw toss at America East Championships; 57-02.25 Sixth in weight throw at New England Championships; 58-03.00' Placed 10th overall in weight throw at the IC4A Championships; 58-07.25 Won weight throw at home quad-meet; 16.71 Won the weight throw at the Dartmouth Classic; 57-03.00 2010-11 Indoor Highlights Placed 24th in the weight throw (51-7.25) at the IC4A Championship Second in the shot put (50-3.25) and fourth in the weight throw (55-3.75) at the America East Championship Second in the shot put (48-6) and the weight throw (53-2.75) against Vermont and Maine Won the shot put (15.15m) against Stonehill, Holy Cross and Worcester State First in the shot put (50-6.0) and the weight throw (55-4.25) against Maine 2010 Outdoor Highlights Second in the shot put (15.38) at the Wildcat Invitational III