As a star track and field athlete in high school and college, the sacrifices had mostly to do with going the distance—running faster, working out harder, and throwing that shot put farther.
However, this New Hampshire athlete took sacrifice to the next level when he decided to end his college sports career early in order to donate bone marrow.
Lyle made the decision to donate just a few days prior to his last chance for a gold medal in the Division 1 America East Conference championships. He also missed the renowned Penn Relays, know as the nations’ oldest and most celebrated track and field competition.
Having won 11 medals at conference in the past, Lyle had a great shot at the gold. But for him, this was more important.
“You try to teach your kids certain things: Be kind. Don’t bully. Give. Take your manners out of your pocket and put ’em in your mouth. And you always wonder if it sinks in,” said Lyle’s mom, Christine Sciacca. “It did with Cam. He gets it. And when he told me what he was going to do, I could barely keep myself together I was so proud of him.”
He had registered to become a bone marrow donor about 2 years prior, and had forgotten about it until the opportunity to donate arose.
“It was during my sophomore year. The football team was hosting Be the Match, from the National Marrow Donor Program,” said Lyle. “I walked into the cafeteria and a couple of football players grabbed me and said ‘Hey, why don’t you get your cheek swabbed. It only takes a minute.’ So I did. And at the time the people with Be the Match told me that the odds of me actually being a match were like one in 5 million.”
Given those odds, he didn’t even have a passing thought about it until he got a call from Be the Match.
“They said I was a possible match. And I admit it was kind of frightening for a few minutes,” he said. “But I had made up my mind when I did the mouth swab and joined the registry that if it happened I would donate. Otherwise, why bother registering?”
A follow-up test confirmed that he was in fact a match for a cancer patient. “Now or never, they told me,” said Lyle. It was just a month before the end of his college track and field career.
Lyle took the path less traveled—he forfeited his chances at the gold medal, and decided to donate.
And it was quite an excruciating process. While the amount of marrow extracted varies from person to person, in Lyle’s case, the maximum was required.
Patient’s often need between 1 to 10 cubic centimeters of donor bone marrow, but this patient needed 1,800 CCs. It required over 200 painful needle injections in Lyle’s back.
“I’ve never felt this much pain in my lower back before,” he said. “My girlfriend had to help me get dressed for a couple days.”
The director of the University of New Hampshire track program, Jim Boulanger, said that’s only the 2nd time he’s seen somebody go through that procedure in 30 years.
“Over the years, I feel I’ve had some tremendous kids, and Cam moved himself to the top of that group with this decision,” said Boulanger. “As Cam and I said, hopefully people will realize that for three minutes of time, they can do a mouth swab and get on a registry and maybe save a life.”
Lyle was scared he may disappoint his coach by quitting track before his last two meets ever, but his reaction was quite the opposite.
“I remember he came into my office, closed the door, and said ‘Coach, we need to talk.’ And then he told me, ‘I’m a bone marrow match,’ ” said Boulanger. “And you know what I told him? Let’s see, 12 throws in Binghamton [host of the conference track and field championship] or save a life? Do it. Donate. Sport is not bigger than life. Sport is a part of life.”
It actually bothers coach Boulanger quite a bit when people act like all Lyle did was cut his sports career a few weeks short, because it was so much more than that. He feels it diminishes this selfless boy’s sacrifice.
“People say he only gave up track,” he said. “But no, it’s more than that. You give up championships. This was his shot. But he gave it up for the right reason. And in the end, he contributed to our athletic programs as an athlete, and as a student, and now as a person. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Lyle gave up his shot at gold so a 28-year-old man with leukemia could have a shot at life—and no world-record shot put throw could be greater than that.