ShareThis Page

Gorman: 'Just cross the finish line this time'

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, 7:31 p.m.

Tim Keefer always believed coaching sports was a greater calling, his own way of saving lives.

Little did the former Oliver High School football and basketball coach know that sports would twice save his.

Keefer discovered that he had kidney cancer only after breaking his nose while playing basketball in gym class.

Then two athletes resuscitated Keefer by performing CPR after he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while running the Brookline Breeze 5K last Aug. 11.

A coaching lifer who is an assistant for Hempfield High football and Seton Hill University basketball, Keefer believes he's alive thanks to lessons learned in the athletic arena.

“It's funny,” said Keefer, 56, of Perryopolis. “All those years, I taught CPR in health class and showed all those films of a guy choking. That was me. It's a cliché, but sports do teach more.”

Active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Keefer preaches overcoming adversity by being relentless. His mantra: Finish the job.

So it should come as no surprise that Keefer plans to run the Brookline Breeze again Saturday, one day before the one-year anniversary of his brush with death.

“I'm still on the clock,” said Keefer, who collapsed 400 yards from the finish line. “I didn't finish last year. My wife (Pauline) says, ‘Just cross the finish line this time.' ”

The cancer was Keefer's first test. While at the hospital for his nose, his high blood pressure necessitated more tests. A CT scan showed a speck on his kidney. He had a tumor the size of a silver dollar removed March 12, 2012.

Keefer's wry sense of humor before running the Breeze last year foreshadowed a near-fatal moment.

From the starting line, Keefer took a photo of Brookline Boulevard's steep incline and forwarded it to his wife, along with a note: If I don't make it back, you know why.

“He does that all the time,” she said. “He's a jokester. I didn't think anything of it, but after everything that happened, you think, ‘He shouldn't have run this race!' ”

“Little did I know,” he said.

Keefer was cruising to the finish when he dropped near Brookline Boulevard and Whited Street.

That's when Colin Hackman, a meteorologist from Wilmington, N.C., rushed to the rescue and found that Keefer had no pulse.

Hackman had learned CPR two weeks earlier for his other job, as a high school cross country coach, and started doing chest compressions.

Soon, he was joined by a paramedic, Rizieri Valles of Green Tree, who had wrestled at Keystone Oaks. Valles cleared mucus and vomit and gave Keefer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The men, who had run the race, worked on Keefer for four minutes until an EMS crew arrived and transported him to UPMC Mercy.

Keefer spent five days in the intensive care unit and had a defibrillator installed in his chest. He was back on the field in time for football season.

Amazingly, after two near-death experiences, Keefer has no signs of cancer and no damage to his heart.

His story gets better.

Keefer's son, Zach, and daughter-in-law, Lisa, were expecting their first child and were broadsided while driving home from visiting him in the hospital. Keefer's first grandchild, Addilynn May, was born a week later, on Aug. 18.

Now retired, Keefer baby-sits his granddaughter and jokingly calls himself a “manny.”

“That,” he said, “was the greatest rehab ever.”

Keefer's sons Zach and Nick — who also coaches football at Hempfield —will run the Brookline Breeze with him. Keefer plans to see Hackman and Valles, who didn't quit until they saved his life, before and after the race.

Pauline and daughter Lauren will wait for them, cheering from the finish line.

“Hopefully he makes it over,” Pauline deadpans, matching her husband's wit and raising it. “I'm not walking it because I don't want to go into cardiac arrest.”

Keefer laughs, reminded that he didn't quit when his first Oliver basketball team went 0-19. The Bears played for the City League championship the next two years. You better believe he's running this race.

“When your son or daughter plays a sport, they're learning about life,” Keefer said. “That's what we're trying to teach kids: You finish.

“I'm running this race. This time I'm going to finish it.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.