Tim Nelson is no stranger to football in the River Bend and surrounding area.
Nelson began his prep playing career at Civic Memorial under Rick Reinhart for a year before finishing up a solid career at Calhoun over the next three years under Ric Johns, graduating in 1993. He later coached Marquette Catholic to a 33-19 record over five years from 2008-12, qualifying for the playoffs every year.
So when the Quarterback Club at the Alton Knights of Columbus Hall was looking for a speaker for their annual end-of-the-year awards banquet, Nelson fit the bill. But it was Nelson’s story as much as his experience on the gridiron that made him an intriguing choice.
See, at 39 years old, Nelson is in a battle for his life with cancer.
In 2013 Nelson had taken his coaching talents to Dupo, where he had the Tigers sitting at 4-4 entering Week 9. All they had to do was win and they were in the playoffs.
But on the way to a Thursday practice leading up to Week 9, Nelson began having horrendous stomach cramping and when he arrived at Dupo and told his defensive coordinator to get practice going, that he wasn’t feeling well, he discovered he had bled all over his floorboard. He began to drive home and the bleeding continued as his blood pressure plummeted to 80 over 50. He got it checked out and two tumors the size of tomatoes were discovered in his rectum. More spots were found on his colon and his battle began.
As the shift from battling on the gridiron to battling for his life began over the next few months, Nelson thought he had the upper hand on the cancer when he found it had spread to his lungs. He had surgery, he went through chemotherapy and it had him on the ropes. He became bed-ridden.
Once a hulking man of 300 pounds, the cancer dwindled him down to 206 pounds at his lowest point, zapping his strength and making him feel frail. For four months he lay in a bed.
A former teammate and close friend from his days at CM, J.D. Lorton, came to visit him and gave him some tough love. He told Nelson if he didn’t get out of bed he was going to die. Initially the confrontation infuriated Nelson; ultimately it motivated him.
He got out of bed and began to fight again, and though he’s far from being out of the woods yet, he feels like he’s on the right track. His weight is back up to 225 pounds and even though it’s a struggle, he’s able to move around again. He even returned to the sidelines this year as an assistant coach at Calhoun.
That was Nelson’s theme of his speech on Nov. 18 at the Quarterback Club dinner: to always fight, never give up and always put it in your mind that you can accomplish anything.
There were kids in the crowd who he had coached, coaches he’s coached with and played against, people who are dear to his heart. His message to them was one of hope, one of positivity. Nelson doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him; he wants to motivate them with his strong will and let them know that life is fleeting, so enjoy it.
One of the last things he addressed at the podium was the honor he felt getting to share his story at the banquet to so many people he respects.
“I’m honored to be here tonight; I’m very humbled,” Nelson said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been up here and usually I fall over my words, I don’t know what to say. But I can tell you what, probably one of the greatest moments I’ve had this year is being here tonight, and I thank you.”
And I think I can speak for the River Bend when I say we thank you, coach Nelson. You’ve picked up your fair share of wins on the gridiron, what do you say you pick up one more in life. You’ve got plenty of fans cheering you on in your plight, too; keep fighting and keep being an inspiration.
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