Catawba football: Bell’s return inspiring
By Bret Strelow
George Bell, an admittedly quiet talker, spoke softer than usual after he had his thyroid removed.
He felt pain whenever he coughed or sneezed.
Bell didn’t need words to send an uplifting message last Saturday. He set an example by merely suiting up for Catawba’s win at Mars Hill.
Bell, who was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism before the start of his senior year, made his first appearance of the season only 17 days after undergoing surgery.
He suffered a serious knee injury as a high school junior, and the latest setback threatened to cut short the running back’s record-setting college career.
“I didn’t think it was over ó I guess I thought about it,” Bell said. “Stuff kept piling on, and there’s a lot of people, in my position now, if you had went through my life and through all my struggles, you would have been done a long time ago.
“That pushes me still because there’s people out there that feel like I’m not quick enough. It may be the right idea for some, but for the people that need that extra push, I feel I can be that person to help them out.”
Bell, a prep All-American, transferred from Virginia Tech to Catawba last summer.
He rushed for a school-record 18 touchdowns as a junior and scored three times in the fourth quarter of a 55-49 win at Carson-Newman. That victory enabled the Indians to secure a share of the SAC title and reach the Division II playoffs.
Bell missed the first three games on this year’s schedule and rushed six times for 9 yards at Mars Hill. Teammates and fans have offered support throughout the trying process, and Bell strives to satisfy them.
“I was joking with the coaches, I got a text (in August) and I don’t even know who it is saying, ‘Good luck this season,’ ” Bell recalled. “They don’t even know what’s going on; they were just ready for me to play. I know they want me out there, and I want to be out there. I try to tell them to be patient ó ‘I’m trying to come out there for y’all and do what I can.’
“It isn’t about how many touchdowns I score and the record from last year. It’s about whatever I can do to help, as long as I’m ready.”
The thyroid, an endocrine gland located at the front of the neck, produces two types of hormones that impact functions such as metabolism, body temperature, breathing, muscle strength and skin dryness. When the gland makes an overabundance of those hormones, hyperthyroidism develops.
People with hyperthyroidism often lose weight, have hot flashes and deal with involuntary shaking in their hands.
Bell, given his repeated bouts with adversity, said it “felt like a new test starting” when those symptoms showed up in January. He tried to work through them, but an alarming weigh-in at fall camp grabbed his attention.
“I reported to camp at 203, and the last time I was 203 was my freshman year of high school,” Bell said. “Once I saw that I knew something was wrong with me.”
Bell followed the story of Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and realized he was struggling with some of the same problems that had bothered Cutler, who was diagnosed with diabetes. Cutler’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which is needed to convert sugar into energy.
Bell found out he had hyperthyroidism, and surgery is one treatment option. Dr. Robert Whitaker performed the procedure in Salisbury on Sept. 10, three days before Catawba played Livingstone.
Bell takes one pill a day and expects to do so for the remainder of his life.
“George Bell is a guy that’s proved over and over that he’s got resiliency and he’s got the physical and mental toughness to overcome a lot,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “That’s been part of his career. Our young players see a guy that has that mental toughness and has that drive to play and has that love for the game, love for his teammates.”
Bell said Whitaker told him he’d be able to play two weeks after surgery, and a bye followed Catawba’s victory against Livingstone.
Bell joined his teammates for practices leading up to the SAC opener and gained 2 yards on his first carry against Mars Hill.
“The last time I got hit prior to that was in the spring, and I hardly even got hit in the spring,” Bell said. “I’m just going to improve from there. Like I told some people who were asking me how I felt, it just felt like my first time ever playing out there.”