Need some inspiration?
Then take a seat and listen to Arlin Olson’s story. He’ll make you cry. Then he’ll bring you to your feet, cheering.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Olson said. “I guess I’m still here for a reason.”
It’s to inspire.
Since July 2007, he’s had 11 knee surgeries, all on his right knee. If he needs another surgery, it will be an amputation. His right leg is now an inch and a half shorter than his left, forcing him to wear lifts in his shoes.
In April, he fell, breaking his ribs. One rib punctured his lung and his other lung filled with fluid, putting him in critical condition. He nearly died.
“I was talking to the Big Man,” Olson said. “They had to revive me at the hospital a couple of times.”
Doctors gathered Olson’s family together to warn them of Olson’s critical condition.
But Olson, a longtime coach who played college basketball at Eastern Washington in the 1960s, made his biggest comeback ever. He cheated death.
“It scares the crap out of you when you’re that close to ending the game,” Olson said. “I have a new appreciation of what’s going on now. Every day is important.”
While he walks with a cane, has a limp and will take antibiotics twice a day for the rest of his life, he’s still coaching. He’s still involved, pushing against the despair of what he’s lost and refusing to hold a pity party. He’s a volunteer assistant girls basketball coach at Yelm High School for Russ Riches, a longtime friend.
At least once a week, he’ll be at a practice, coaching. He’ll also go to Yelm’s upcoming opponent, video taping the game and giving Riches a scouting report.
“We almost lost Arlin this summer,” Riches said. “But in all of it, he keeps battling back. He’s a go getter. He has such a heart for other people, he’ll do whatever he can to help.”
That’s not easy to do with a heavy heart. In addition to his struggle with his right leg for the past five years, Olson’s wife for 39 years, Lori, died suddenly in 2006. A lot of people would buckle under the despair of losing a wife and being hobbled by a knee. But not Olson.
Rather than be consumed with what he’s lost, he’s focused on what he’s got.
“I still got stuff I want to get done,” said Olson, who draws strength from his Christian faith. “I’ve still got things in my bucket list. I have six grand kids. I think about that all the time.”
It’s not been an easy six years. A year after his wife’s death and shortly after his first total knee replacement in 2007 he got an infection, hospitalizing him for a month and a half. About a year later, Olson fell after getting up from bed in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and broke his femur right where his knee replacement connected. That led to his second total knee replacement.
“So, I was laid up again for that,” Olson said.
More surgeries followed.
As a coach, Olson inspired with his words. Now, as a volunteer coach with Riches, he inspires with actions.
Olson has a long coaching history. He coached the boys basketball team at Yelm from 1990-93, then became an assistant at South Puget Sound Community College for three years before becoming the head coach there for five years. He then became an assistant at Evergreen State College and returned to Yelm several years ago to become the boys head coach again before his knee forced him to stop.
“Doctors told me I had to take it easy,” Olson said.
Now 64, Olson is still coaching, helping an old friend when he can. Olson hired Riches as a boys assistant coach in 1991. Besides coaching basketball, Olson also coached fastpitch with Riches at Yelm.
“Arlin just continues to fined new challenges,” Riches said. “He hasn’t allowed himself to quit doing what he does. He just continues to move forward.”
And that’s why he’s so inspirational.