Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Man of Iron

I am not too much of a gambler but here is a wager that I am willing to make. I am willing to bet that regardless of how hard my day is today, or tomorrow, or the day after that, it will be a damn sight easier than the day that Dave DeOliviera has in store for him. Trust me on this. You need not read any further to know that you want some of this action. This is indeed a sure thing.

If you do not know who Dave DeOliviera is, then you will receive no chiding from me. Until I read about him in yesterday's Star-Ledger I did not know him or of him either. My loss. Mr. DeOliviera is a young man. He is 37 years old. Once I hit 40 I developed a new definition of "young". It means, "anyone who is not as old as I am." Even by a less restrictive standard, he is a young man. He is a young man who earns his living as a teacher of health and physical education at Newark East Side High School, where he also serves as the head coach for the girls volleyball team. He is apparently a very successful coach. The Ledger reported that this season Newark East Side completed its regular season as the #8 team in the State. This season its record to date is 20-3. It has captured the Essex County championship three times during his tenure as the man in charge.

And the success he and his young ladies does not even tell half of the story of Dave DeOliviera. Hell, it does not tell 1% of it. It was the great American writer Bernard Malamud who wrote, "Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." Thanks to Coach, the young ladies who play for him presently and who have played for him previously know precisely how far they can go. Tilt your head back when you try to find them. They are still climbing.

It is impossible (at least it was for me and I am a well-regarded heartless bastard) to read the story in yesterday's Star-Ledger and not feel your heart break. For all of the really great things that Dave DeOliviera is (and it would be remiss not to include husband and son on the list), he is one thing that to an outsider appears to be inhumanely cruel. He is a 37 year old man with Stage 4 glioblastoma an aggressive and - in his case - inoperable form of brain cancer. The story recounts better than I ever could the incredible toll that the disease is taking upon him and the lengths he must go to on a daily basis in an effort to simply combat it. It is nothing short of devastating.

His is a story we should all read and we should all know not for the obvious ("Boy, sometimes the world is an incredibly cruel, cold and shitty place") but for the nuanced. It is a story we should all read and all know because it is about a man and the young ladies he has coached and the positive role he has played in their lives for as long as he has been involved in them. It is not the story of a person who became a hero through the incredibly inspirational way in which he battles against his illness and the impossibly long odds it has given him. Rather it is the story of a man who was already a hero to those who know and love him for who he is and for what he does and upon whose shoulders fate decided to toss a really heavy weight. Staring death in the face has not made Coach DeOliviera a hero. He has been one far longer and for far more wide-ranging reasons than that.

I have in the entirety of my life watched less than ten high school girls' volleyball matches. At gunpoint I could not tell you the rules of volleyball other than hitting the ball over the net is good and hitting is under the net is decidedly less so. Yet I will be perusing the Ledger tomorrow to see how Coach and his girls fare in the State quarterfinal match today. Win or lose, it is a safe bet that they will take the result in stride. "We're just positive. We take it one day at a time."

Words of wisdom from a very wise, singularly amazing young man. "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Ambrose Redmoon never met Dave DeOliviera. Yet he described him perfectly. A man of iron will coaching a team of iron-willed young women in the Ironbound section of Newark. With that type of internal constitution, gliobastoma might just meet its match in Coach DeOliviera.

One might say that it already has.


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