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Dear Coach: Myers' Leukemia Sparked Prayers, Goodwill And A Letter
Friday 03/07/2007  -  Duke Sports Information
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by Ron Balicki, Golfweek

DURHAM, N.C. - It has been a tough two months for Duke coach Rod Myers, his wife Nancy, their family, everyone in the Duke golf family, and the school's athletic program. Myers was hospitalized Jan. 3 and was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent seven days of chemotherapy and spent the next couple of weeks in the Duke University hospital.

It appeared the treatment worked and he was sent home. But less than two days later, he began having trouble with his speech and balance. Nancy returned him to the hospital and tests discovered blood clots on his brain.

He underwent surgery and spent nearly a week in the Intensive Care Unit.

Myers is out of ICU, but remains very weak, cannot speak and has lost control of the right side of his body.

"The bad news is, the leukemia is back," said Brad Sparling, Duke's associate head golf coach and now interim head coach. "I'm not really sure what the plan of action is right now. He's lost a lot of weight and is in pretty serious shape. But he still can hear you and you can tell he hasn't lost his sense of humor – he'll smile if you tell him a joke and give him some good news.

"The guys on the team have been to see him and it's a really hard deal on them. Considering everything, I think they're handling it as well as can be expected."

Duke opened its spring season Feb. 25-27 at the Rio Mar Puerto Rico Collegiate Classic. It's one of Myers' favorites, and it no doubt this year feet a void.

Rod Myers has been a head college golf coach for 40 years, 34 at Duke. But to many, including myself, he is more than that – he is a friend and wonderful human being. Often times we hear the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It's a question I'm asking right now.

• • •

This is an edited excerpt of an e-mail letter I received from Mike Castleforte, who played his college golf at Duke for Myers from 2002-2004.

I thank Mike for allowing me to share his letter. I believe it helps capture the true essence of what Myers has meant to not only Duke, but college golf as a whole.

Today, I find it particularly important to share the story of my former golf coach, mentor, surrogate grandfather, and, most importantly, my friend. At a time when Duke, especially the athletic department, is judged by the nation, I believe it is important that people get an opportunity to hear about something other than the lacrosse or basketball teams.

Coach Rod Myers cannot be described adequately in a letter. However, I will do my best to illustrate what coach has meant to me personally, as well as all the players to wear the colors of the Duke golf team.

For the past 34 years, coach Myers has welcomed a class of incoming freshman to the Duke golf course. That's over 150 different terrified, yet overly confident, freshmen that he welcomed on the first day of practice. It is over 150 sons, brothers, and grandchildren placed in his care at the impressionable age of 18.

While the number may seem minuscule compared to a football or track coach, it is absolutely gigantic when you recall how coach Myers touched each and every one of their lives, developing most into the men they are today.

When I was leaving Duke, I became very concerned with how coach Myers would be remembered. I knew that college athletics was measured in wins and losses, a figure that didn't truly portray his importance. Sure, he had very good statistics, especially given the enrollment restrictions he faced in recruiting, but at my departure he was still searching for his first ACC title, and his best finish at the national championship was eighth. It severely disturbed me that upon his retirement he might be viewed as just another coach who served for a long time but did nothing special; simply ordinary.

Coach was anything but ordinary. Finally, I realized that his wins and losses were actually quite impressive. He had succeeded at making over 150 young men's lives better. He had succeeded in instilling the values of kindness, honesty, and passion that he cherished in all of his players. He succeeded in never giving up on a player or a person. He succeeded in teaching his players to embrace life and cherish their time at Duke. He encouraged us to attend every basketball game, football game, volleyball game, or any other sporting event to support our university and fellow athletes. He would cancel practice so we could participate in community service projects.

He won every time he gave out a little additional scholarship to those seniors who he felt "earned it" in their time at Duke. How many coaches do you know that would reward guys that weren't transferring or could offer any legitimate threat of transferring? He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do for players that worked hard. How many coaches do you know that will take a kid fly fishing in the evenings so he can relieve the stress that is exam week? How many coaches do you know that will wake up at 3:00 a.m. to answer the phone call of a frantic player who cannot locate his diabetes checker and does not want to miss the flight to the tournament early the next morning?

He won every time. He won when every time his players graduated, whether or not they turned pro and became the next "Joe the Pro" (the golf team's affectionate name for the most recognizable Duke golfer: Joe Ogilvie). Anytime you needed coach, he was there for you without hesitation.

... I knew my first week at Duke why coach Myers was different and revered. He treated every person exactly the same, from the waitress at breakfast to the visiting Fortune 500 CEO. He treated them with kindness and respect. His mannerisms and qualities wore off on his teams.

There may only be a handful of players on Tour from the Duke program, but that should never be the measure of success for a college coach. The success of a coach should be measured in the lives that are bettered by him or her. It should be measured in the number of holiday cards he receives from former players or the amount of phone calls and e-mails flooding his inbox the day we found out he had leukemia. It should be judged by the number of former players that called about being a donor for his bone marrow transplant that he will be undergoing. His success should be judged by the parents of former players who pray for him every night before their evening meal, even though the Duke golfer in the family is grown and has his own family. His success should not be judged by the awards or honors (even though he has many of those, including this year's Golf Coaches Association of America Lebron Harris Senior award, ACC coach of the year, Golfweek's National Coach of the Year, and former chairman of the NCAA golf committee).

It should be judged by the amount of time that each of your former players, assistant coaches, or parents spend praying, pleading, or just begging that you will recover from your recent brain clot discovered just after your release from chemo.

... I understand that this letter inadequately portrays how significantly coach Myers has influenced the lives of every person he has coached or with whom he has come into contact. While I have no doubt that coach Myers will succeed and beat this awful disease, it is never too early for a true coach to receive his due. He represents everything that is great about Duke University; everything that is forgotten in the media. The Duke athletic department could not ask for a better coach on its staff. I could not ask for a better friend.

Sincerely,

Mike Castleforte

• • •

Special thanks to Golfweek for letting Duke Athletics and GoDuke.com run this article. Ron Balicki is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail rbalicki@golfweek.com.


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