Mick Lyon is still a long way from his goal, but he’s a lot closer than he was more than two months ago.
The GoFundMe page created Sept. 18, 2017, by a friend to help the former IU women’s soccer coach afford health care costs associated with his battle against primary progressive multiple sclerosis is at $53,472, as of Nov. 29. Lyon, 54, estimates other fundraising efforts that aren’t associated with the page, but came about after its inception, have raised about another $10,000.
One such effort was a three-on-three soccer tournament in Evansville, Indiana.
The page’s goal is $500,000, which Lyon said is based off what his care costs right now and would last him until he’s 65, as long as he doesn’t get any worse. The first drug designed for people with his type of MS came out this past spring.
“I’ve also received notes from people that say, ‘Mick, I’m thinking about you,’ and just various things,” Lyon said. “I try to read them all, and at times it’s almost brought tears to my eyes because it makes me remember good times.”
The native of England coached Evansville’s women’s soccer team for nine years before moving to Bloomington to coach the Hoosiers. Lyon spent 11 seasons, from 2002 to 2012, at IU. The support from both communities, and those outside them, has him and his wife Elizabeth, who suffers from relapsing-remitting MS herself, feeling very fortunate.
“I think that’s just in general what people do for each other,” Elizabeth said. “I think that’s what good people do for each other. We do it for other people and certainly people have done it for us.”
At first, back in 2004, Lyon didn’t want to tell anyone about his diagnosis. For a time, only his wife and neurologist knew.
“I didn’t want it to be a distraction,” Lyon said.
He wanted everyone’s focus to be on the team. Before he finally revealed the illness to his team in 2006, he’d tell anyone who saw him stumble or notice something was off that he was fine. Lyon was proud and didn’t want to relinquish any of his independence.
Even after he first opened up about it, the topic seldom came up. But the more the MS hampered his ability to coach, the harder it became to ignore related issues.
He was known for his passion. At practices he’d jump into drills, showing instead of just telling.
“'Give me the ball, give me the ball,'” Jordan Woolums, who played at IU from 2011 to 2014, remembers him shouting excitedly sometimes. “'I’m an old man, and I can do that so you guys have no excuse.'”
He couldn’t do that during games but did just about all he could up to that.
“His passion was contagious,” Woolums said. “You might not like what he had to say, but you had to respect the fact that he loved this game, and he wanted to see it played in the very best way.”
Simply, Lyon “gave a damn.”
Just from Woolums’ freshman year to her sophomore campaign, though, he joined in less and less. Over those final couple years coaching, the MS took its toll. Sometimes during the 2012 season he’d have to drive a cart around practice.
Still, he did what he could to maintain independence. He wasn’t the kind of guy to just ask for help.
Rebecca Candler played at IU from 2010 to 2013. She recently married a former Hoosier wrestler, Cheney Dale, and took his last name.
“Mentally there was never a moment where he let us see how hard it was for him,” Dale said. “It was more of a physical transition.”
Internally, Lyon couldn’t deny what was happening. His spark flickered. He wasn’t present in the ways he used to be.
Lyon spent the first couple years of his retirement in Bloomington supporting his former players and other Hoosier teams before moving to the Seattle area. His wife took advantage of a job opportunity at a community college there, and the Pacific Northwest boasted one of the best institutions for MS research in the University of Washington.
Lyon’s condition has deteriorated since the 2014 move. He could walk then, but soon had to rely on a cane. A walker was next. Then a wheelchair. Then a motorized wheelchair.
He said he hopes Ocrevus, the new drug for those with primary progressive MS that has patients take an infusion every six months, will stop the progression of his disease and possibly even reverse a few things. But there’s no guarantee.
Some days are worse than others, and there’s no predicting how each will go. So, he and his wife choose not to worry about it.
“We sort of compartmentalize things,” Elizabeth said. “We deal with the challenge, we deal with the health issues, we deal with the day-to-day tasks and then we button it up and put it on a shelf and live life.”
They have season tickets for the University of Washington football team and the Major League Soccer club in Seattle, the Seattle Sounders. Lyon has a favorite coffee place he’ll go to, and a round table he sits at where there’s always someone to talk to.
“I sure as hell don’t know how I would handle it, but I think he’s handling it the best way he knows how,” Woolums said. “He’s kept a smile on his face. The wheelchair hasn’t slowed him down.”
Dale lives in the area, too. At Sounders games, she sees him turn back into the coach she played for, British humor and all. Elizabeth sees his coach side come out just about every day. One time, he even tried to coach a contractor who was figuring out how to fix their patio and pour some concrete.
“Coach, you’re not in charge anymore,” she’ll say. “I think it’s just in his DNA.”
The progression of his MS has led Lyon to start to accept more help, though. It started, in some ways, when he wasn’t able to hop into drills and had to accept where things were more often. It’s continued in Seattle as he’s lost the ability to drive himself around or even write as he used to. He just doesn’t have the same dexterity.
Lyon said he has a health care assistant who comes every day, too.
“This is the way it is and that’s okay,” Lyon said. “If somebody else has to feed me, so what? I still get to eat this food.”
At Thanksgiving on Thursday he’ll be celebrating at home for the second straight year. When he first moved out West, he would go to a large gathering at a friend’s place with Elizabeth, but he can no longer navigate its stairs. She’s still going to go, but will also celebrate with Lyon and a former Evansville player of his who is visiting with her boyfriend.
“Even though I can’t do something doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do it,” Lyon said.
Traditions change. They didn’t normally celebrate traditional Thanksgiving in Bloomington, and the realities of a coach’s life usually meant Lyon was on the road recruiting.
Lyon does miss that. The memories of the new places he’d visit and camaraderie he shared with fellow coaches are fond ones. But dwelling on that doesn’t accomplish much. Elizabeth feels the same way.
“Thanksgivings are different now,” she said. “But, that doesn’t mean they’re worse or better.”
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