This Coach Got Better, Not Beaten by the Crash That Nearly Killed Him

Marion Chisholm Is on a Mission to Win at Sports and Life

The first time I noticed him was in my early-morning step aerobics class. He had taken a space in the back and done the class without a step, which wouldn’t have gained my respect, except that he was using forearm crutches. Wow.

He returned. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Became a regular. Eventually, he lost the crutches and added a step.  

“I knew (the instructor) Bob because I coached his daughters in track,” high school Coach Marion Chisholm told me this week as we water-walked the health club pool together one morning. “When I saw he was teaching the class, I decided to try it. That got my blood flowing in new ways and contributed to my healing,”

(The step instructor, Bob Williams, called him Coach. I soon learned that everyone at the gym – young, old, male, female – call him “Coach.” Some because he coached them or their children; me because it seemed correct – and because I never heard him called by any other name.)

Even though he wasn’t my coach, Coach – by his faithful efforts at the gym and his upbeat attitude despite his physical ailments – inspires me. To learn he is also a man on a mission to minister to youth and who believes God works all things together for good because he loves Him and wants to follow God’s purpose for his life? Priceless.

Since that initial encounter in step class, I have seen him working out using a walker or a cane and sans both. He had to have his hip replaced a few years ago, and, most recently, he walked through prostate cancer. (Literally walked, which hastened his healing.) Still, he returns to the gym with a smile and determination on his face. I wanted to capture his story to inspire you, too.  

All things – even hard things – work together for good

In 2004, Coach had been healing from a head-on collision that had crushed the left side of his body, leaving him permanently disabled with rods and screws in his left arm and leg, and increasingly riddled with arthritis and pain as he ages.

And yet Coach calls the accident that almost took his life and the lingering disability a “true blessing from God.”

“In the moment, it seems dark and painful, but then you see how God is working for your good,” he said, reflectively. “And it is a blessing. It is truly a blessing.”

As the assistant high school basketball coach in March of 2004, he and some players were riding home from the state semifinals when their vehicle was hit. Coach remembers nothing of the crash, but he does remember awakening from his near-death experience with an overwhelming sense of knowing that “God saved me – and he saved me for a purpose.”

Speaking sports and faith to his players

The crash changed his life in more ways than one.

Spiritually, Marion became much more aware and appreciative of the God who saved him. Physically, he became disabled, unable to coach and teach full time. Now, however, he is free to serve the God he loves and coach the sports he loves as a volunteer.

He works with track and field (what used to be his “bread and butter” as several high schools sought his expertise to develop excellent programs), as well as basketball and football. He has worked with all but one of the high schools in our locale. Now he volunteers at Eastside High School as an assistant offensive coordinator.

He smiled at me as he talked about his opportunity to speak into the lives of young people.

“I tell them to ‘do the right thing,’” he said. “I know you see me like this [he grinned widely], but I tell my players, ‘I am not your friend.’ I am the disciplinarian.” He spoke and looked at me sternly to show me that side of his personality.

“I had some young men skip practice the other day, thinking they could buck the system. But they had to pay a penalty when they came back. They didn’t do right by the team.”

“’Aww, Coach! Why do we have to do this?’” they said to me. “I told them I was sorry, but because they missed practice, we had extra work to do. I told them they needed to start doing the right thing.”

His many roles in his players’ lives

In addition to disciplinarian, he calls himself “the chaplain and the spiritual consultant.” Before a team dinner, for instance, he’ll ask the players to say grace with him for the meal. As a volunteer, he has that privilege.

In 2016, the local newspaper interviewed one of Coach’s track stars, Willie Rodgers, and his response to “Coach Marion Chisholm’s best words of advice for me” was this:

“You need to live right and get closer to God.”

Amen.

He considers himself his players’ parent away from home. He loves them as a parent might – and trains them for life, not just whatever sport he is coaching.

He keeps moving to keep moving

Coach begins the day at the health club or walking the stadium walkways at the University of Florida football field. Since I first met him doing step aerobics, I’ve taken aqua Zumba and water aerobics with him. I most often see him walking and exercising in the pool, usually finishing his workouts when I’m starting a swim.

“I started walking in the pool about 12 years ago,” he told me. “After the accident, as part of my physical therapy, I walked on a treadmill in the water, but I hadn’t thought about getting in the pool here at the health club. But it’s great for me.”

In fact, it cut his recovery time from cancer by four months. Earlier this year, Coach was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery as well as cryotherapy.

“My doctor told me recovery would take six months, but I returned to the gym and worked out gently – walking in the pool, light weightlifting – and after two months he said I was cancer-free and doing well.”  

Though he was able to get rid of the arm crutches years ago, Coach carries both a walker and a cane in the back of his car for the occasional return of the pain. He’s got quite a supply of both walkers and canes, he said, thanks to kind people who provided them after the vehicle collision that changed his life.

“It’s been a good week,” Coach told me as our water-walk interview ended. Earlier in the week, he had been texting back and forth with a friend he’s known since junior high school, reflecting on all they’d experienced in life. The two of them could make a substantial list of the many hardships they had faced.

“But we both were thanking the good Lord for all He’d done for us,” he said. “We could see how – even in the most difficult times – God was working the details for our good.”


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