In addition to his duties as the athletic director for Westmont College, Dave Odell is the owner of several Santa Barbara-area businesses, including Medbridge-the parent company of The Lab which runs this site. Wait, does that make Dave my grandfather?  Okay, I digress…  On Friday, January 6 beginning at 8 a.m., the veteran ultramarathoner will celebrate his 50th birthday by running 50 miles on the Westmont College Track while raising $50,000 to be divided between the Warriors cross country/track and field programs and the Santa Barbara Track Club in his one-man 50 for 50 for $50,000 campaign (http://www.50for50for50thousand.com).   In the one-man event, which is open to the public, his estimated finish time will be around 4:30-5:30 p.m.  I hope to see you out there. – MGT

Each year is a cause for celebration when one reaches the anniversary of their birth. When we’re younger, we celebrate milestone ages – 13 (“Yay, I’m a teenager! Why is mom crying?”), 16 (“Yay, I can get my driver’s license! Why is dad crying?”), 18 (“Yay, we are legally adults! I can’t vote via text?”), 21. (“Yay, I can finally get into clubs. What do you mean there’s a cover charge?”), 30 (“Yay, I’m officially an adult!  Don’t you still want to see my ID?”), until reaching about middle age when some of us start thinking differently like I did when I hit 50 (“Yay, I can finally join AARP!”…Wait, nevermind… sigh.”).  But for my friend and boss Dave Odell, reaching the half-century mark is something to embrace, rather than dread.  Because after not only surviving but thriving a life-threatening situation 20 years ago, the husband and father of three is proving that hitting 50 is not only nifty but a pretty wonderful vintage.

To commemorate his milestone,   Dave will do a now-popular “birthday challenge” with a philanthropic turn,  run round-and-round, 200(!) laps on the Westmont Track to raise money for both the Westmont College track and cross country teams and the Santa Barbara Track Club (http://santabarbaratc.com) -a program for Olympic track and field multi-event hopefuls that includes 2016 Rio Games competitor and two-time defending national heptathlon champion Barbara Nwaba.

ER- Now, THIS is a birthday challenge.

Dave Odell (DO) –  “I have always been impressed in what Mike Swan, Marcus Elliot and Geoff Gray –  a group that I am close to –  have done athletically on their birthdays,” Odell said. “Every year, they think of some really tough thing to do and go do it just to celebrate.  I’ve never done a birthday challenge, but always thought it was a cool idea.

 ER-  You are going to do some scientific experiments out there on the day, making you sort of a human guinea pig. But there’s something else about this run, isn’t there?

 DO – (Chuckles) “Yes there is.”

ER –  Because January 6 is not only your 50th birthday, but was also marked a significant time 20 years ago because we almost lost you before a lot of us got a chance to know you.   (After living a painful 10 years while on some “crazy” steroids with inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerated colitis stemming from (giardiasis and amoebiasis) Odell contracted while playing basketball in Peru, Brazil and Ecuador, and later had his colon removed in 1997. Almost exactly a year later, instead of getting better, Odell got worse.) “

 DO – “There were a lot of complications. I was in the hospital 9-10 days with a tube running down my stomach because scar tissue from the surgery wrapped around my small intestine.  There was almost a complete block and I was starting to get sepsis.  That was the worst torture I’ve ever felt.  So it got to the point of no return that I needed surgery to get rid of the scar tissue.”

ER –  Whoa, that sounds potentially deadly. You were fairly newly married to DeAnna and your first child, Walker, was an infant at the time. What the heck was going on in your mind?

 DO – “A lot. I don’t know how close I was to dying, but I do remember everyone scrambling around during that time.  I definitely was facing the prospect of death enough to write my son a letter on the chance I would die from surgery.”

ER –Thankfully for a lot of us, everything worked out.  You were an undersized guard who scrapped for his minutes and knew the NBA wasn’t going to come calling.  But you did pretty well for Westmont, because you were pretty tough, that’s why you toughed out 10 years of pain before your surgery. But facing this was something that required more than reaching deep down into that well.    Faith has always played a big role in your life, even before your illness.  But in this time, it was even more significant wasn’t it?

DO- “My son was sick and my wife (DeAnna) was going through some tough stuff with her pregnancy of our second daughter (Raynee) and I was lying there, feeling completely helpless.  I was sort of making deals with God to just make it long enough so at least Walker would know me, remember me.”

“One day, my best friend Bryan Frame, the best man at my wedding said to me ‘I think that you’ve always been so tough and have always been a fighter.  You always thought you could overcome stuff through hard work and effort on own merits.   You always had to scrap and because of this, you felt that you could handle anything.  But now there isn’t enough power inside to answer the big questions of life.’

  “So for the first time, I realized that I couldn’t just will myself to do it on my own.  I didn’t come to faith in that moment, but it was a very galvanizing time for me, something that continues to drive my personality and who I am today.  And to think that 20 years later, I am not only healthy and have a great wife and three wonderful and healthy kids (the youngest daughter is Rallie), but am able to run 50 miles is something that I’m extremely grateful for.”

ER –  And that’s something that you want to pass on.  You’ve always had a need to help others, but …I’ll go out and say this…it always is under the radar.  I don’t see your name on buildings or on television anywhere.

DO- “I actually am self-conscious because. I mean that’s great when people who do great things are recognized,  because they deserve it. I’d rather be the one standing in back. I will say that what I like doing is helping other people reach their potential.  Seeing them succeed is all the reward that I need.”

ER –  Kind of like a sixth man who comes off the bench to do the dirty things to help his team win.

DO – “Track is a sport that often gets treated like the redheaded stepchild-they are the underdogs of the sport. I played basketball and wasn’t a track runner, but have seen firsthand how (Westmont coach) Russell Smelley and (Santa Barbara Track Club) Josh Priester impart lessons on hard work and sacrifice, and how their athletes take that to heart to become the best athletes, the best people they can be.  And that’s something that I want to support. “

Happy 20th … ahem, 50th Birthday Dave!  

December 2, 2016

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