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Praying for Coach Trimble

In response to ALS diagnosis, Allan Trimble's minister is praying for a miracle

Tuesday July 12, 2016 7:15 pm

When he prays while at home or while driving or while addressing a Park Plaza Church of Christ congregation of 1,600 on Sunday morning, Mitch Wilburn is swinging for the fences.

“I’m praying for Allan Trimble to be healed,” says Wilburn, the preaching minister at Park Plaza — Trimble’s church since the early 1990s. “I’m praying for a miracle. I’m not holding anything back.”

On Thursday night, during a series of phone calls to the Tulsa World and other media outlets, and in emails delivered to his Jenks High School football players and boosters, Trimble acknowledged that he has been diagnosed as having Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Trimble says he will continue to coach the Trojans.

“With the survival rate on this deal,” Wilburn said, “it’s going to take a miracle. I’m no medical professional, but that’s what they tell me.”

The Center for Disease Control describes ALS as being “a progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary movement.”

From the ALS Association website: “Although the life expectancy of a person with ALS averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable, and many people can live with the disease for five years and more. More than half of all people with ALS live more than three years after diagnosis.”

In 20 seasons as the Jenks head man, the 52-year-old Trimble has driven the Trojans to 13 state championships.

Considering that hundreds of athletes have cycled through the Jenks program since 1996, and that Trimble is a popular man and possibly the most accomplished figure in the 112-year history of the Jenks community, the news of his health issue rocks a lot of people.

Trimble is a church elder who was instrumental in the recent development of a Park Plaza satellite church in Jenks.

Expect a packed house for Sunday’s 8 p.m. prayer event at Jenks’ Frank Herald Fieldhouse, located immediately east of Hunter-Dwelley Stadium.

“Those people need to hear that Allan is anchored to the Lord with everything he’s got,” Wilburn said.

Presumably, there will be additional prayers for a miracle cure.

Dan Bitson and Mikey Burnett can testify that miracles do happen.

At the University of Tulsa, Bitson was nationally renowned as one of the more dynamic receivers in college football. During the morning of Dec. 4, 1989, while westbound on 11th Street between Yale and Harvard, Bitson’s Nissan Sentra was crushed in a head-on collision with a car driven by a 20-year-old who had, police would say, an epileptic seizure and steered the vehicle into oncoming traffic.

A chilling excerpt from a 2000 Tulsa World piece on the accident:

“Both of (Bitson’s) thigh bones snapped. He sustained compound fractures of his right knee and right wrist, along with nerve damage. His face was a mask of blood. His tongue was nearly bitten off. … One of the more horrifying aspects of Bitson’s experience was that during 40 of the 45 minutes in which he was pinned within the wreckage, he was cursed with complete consciousness.”

Bitson said he expected to die and remembers reciting the Lord’s Prayer as emergency responders worked to extract him from the wreckage. There were 10½ hours of surgery, 50 days of hospitalization and a 50-pound weight loss.

While his playing career was ruined, Bitson survived and became a football coach. Today, he is TU’s director of player personnel and development.

“There was definitely a miracle in my life,” Bitson said. “When I hear something terrible like what we’re hearing about Coach Trimble, I always wonder how they will respond to the challenge. I’m expecting him to be motivated — to coach his kids and try to win games and championships.

“I’m pushing the negativity to the side and I’m hoping for a miracle in the life of Allan Trimble.”

Burnett is a lifelong resident of east Tulsa and a former mixed martial arts fighter.

The victim of an apparent robbery attempt on Feb. 29, while leaving a gym after a workout with his son, Burnett took four 9mm hollow-point bullets in the abdomen.

He could have bled to death on the pavement of a cold parking lot, but Burnett endured two surgeries and extremely difficult rehab sessions.

Slightly more than four months after the attack, Burnett is able to climb ladders and trim trees.

“Was my situation a miracle? There’s no question about it,” Burnett said. “It’s been painful, every single day. Some days are really bad.

“When you’re in pain, it’s hard to see the blessing, but it’s a blessing to be alive. I’m wrestling with some PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), but I refuse to live in fear. That’s my next challenge — to overcome that.

“I’m sure Allan Trimble has been a tremendous influence on a lot of young athletes. I hate to hear bad news about good people. I hope he beats this thing. If you’re asking me if I believe in miracles, the answer is yes. It’s a miracle that I’m here at all. The fight is the blessing.”

For a Thursday night prayer vigil at his home, Wilburn expected six friends. Instead, there were 28 visitors, and then there was the arrival of several additional men — Trimble’s assistant coaches.

“They were very emotional,” Wilburn reported. “They said, ‘When Allan told us what he was dealing with, the oxygen got sucked out of the room. Before we could say anything or start praying for him, he started praying for us.’

“That’s Allan’s character. Allan’s greatest concern is the impact of this on his wife, his daughters and everybody else.”

During a 6 a.m. Bible study session on Friday, Wilburn says, Trimble’s message was inspiring: “I’m blessed, I’m thankful and I’m good.”

Trimble went public with his ALS diagnosis 77 years and three days after Gehrig, at that time in an early stage of ALS, delivered the most famous speech in sports history.

At Yankee Stadium, where he had been a superstar in 1923-39 but was forced to retire because of his diminished physical state, Gehrig addressed the New York fans: “For the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. ... I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

While Trimble’s courage and response to a “bad break” seem consistent with Gehrig’s, Wilburn says he also is praying that doctors eventually determine that Trimble’s ALS diagnosis was incorrect — that the Jenks coach will be fine and live for at least 52 more years.

“However,” Wilburn added, “if the diagnosis is correct, then I’m praying for Allan to be completely healed.”


Bill Haisten 918-581-8397

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