Coach grapples with muscle disease

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Brad Spencer

Mike Powell is a pillar of strength, there's no questioning or denying it. It's fact. But currently, it's more mental than physical strength that the OPRF head wrestling coach possesses.

Powell, 33, who just a few months ago coached his wrestling program to a Class 3A Dual Team State Championship - the school's first-ever - is currently in treatment battling a rare muscle disease called Polymyositis, where the immune system attacks his muscles. In a mere six weeks, Powell has lost 30 pounds of muscle. He gets fatigued to the point of complete exhaustion doing something as easy as carrying in the groceries. He's taking strong meds, including prednisone, and receiving IV treatment five hours per day twice a month.

But self-pity does not run in Powell's blood.

"Certainly I am not one for drama and pity parties," he wrote in an e-mail last week. "Nor do I wish to have people bringing pot roast over as I am fiercely independent and have an over-developed sense of pride."

Powell, an OPRF graduate and former wrestling state champ, doesn't want to bore folks with the details of his disease. He didn't really want a story written about him but made an exception. He wants those close to him, the OPRF faculty and the entire wrestling program to know he appreciates the support he's received the last few weeks.

"It's been amazing," he says. "Some of my wrestlers went and did some research on their own and were offering suggestions on treatment. They've been awesome. Everyone has been amazing."

Powell decided to make his disease public so he can prove to his wrestlers that coaches practice what they preach.

"Win or lose, regardless of circumstances (bad calls, opponents' strengths, injury, pressure from a big match), you always should expect the highest levels in regard to yourself," he wrote in a recent e-mail sent out to his grapplers. "You're not going to win every match, or every battle in life. But you can bring integrity, courage and pride, and that is something that can never be taken from you."

Don't pity him, he'll still twist you into a pretzel.

Polymyositis is a lifetime disease, but it can be put into remission. As of last week, Powell was feeling a bit more energetic than usual, but he still has a long way to go.

"While it's not always easy, I believe in the power of positive thinking," he said. "Hopefully, in a month I'll be in or close to remission. With that said, if the disease continues to progress, I realize I may not be around in six months or whatever, but I'm sure as hell not going to give up. "

I believe him. Why?

Because Mike Powell is a pillar of strength.

Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Jennifer Breeze from Goldsboro Nc  

Posted: February 21st, 2012 5:47 PM

I am a high school math teacher. since reading about Mike Powell in Sports Illustrated, I have been sharing his story with both my students and colleagues. My student athletes have taken to quoting him. They admire the strength and character portrayed in the story.I have been following Mike's story because I have suffered myositis for over 3 years. To say that it has been hard to continue working & being a mother of 3 is an understatement. But, my students and my love of teaching get me thru.

Mary Anne Shine from Spokane  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 5:48 PM

My son, who is a collegs baseball coach, has been diagnosed with Dermatomyositis an auto immune disorder of the skin and muscles. His muscle symptoms are like Mikes. He has been in treament for 3 months. I will encourage him to contact Mike for moral support etc. I will keep mike in my prayers, as I kind of know what he is going through. I love his courageous words! Keep up your great spirit Mike! Mary Anne Shine