James Clemens’ Coach Drew Bell- “Righted My Life”
MADISON- The first memories of any type of running for Drew Bell was as a five-year old chasing seagulls on Panama City Beach in Florida where his family would take summer trips. He seriously took up the sport in middle school and high school running the many desolate roads within 50 miles of Starkville, Miss. where he grew up. Since that time, through his more than 30 years as an educator and coach, he saw his health decline to a point he would pray for an answer.
“I believe I found the answer and I have righted my life and I feel blessed,” said Bell, longtime head track and cross country coach at James Clemens High.
The 55-year old Bell began his ordeal and personal, life-changing ways in early 2020. As an early-morning bus driver for the school for three and a half years and teaching four science classes a day along with coaching his teams he would pray for that notice of what he needed to do. He struggled to find a way to run in races and compete like he had for most of his life. After all, he earned a college scholarship to run for Ole Miss and finally transferred to West Florida where he became an All-American and soon began his career in education.
In a strange unorthodox way he found his answer, which came in the form of COVID-19.
As the track program shut down and schools were put on hold due to the 2020 pandemic he had more time to get back into running. He dropped his weight from 196 to 148 pounds and his mile runs from 10 minutes, 30 seconds to 5 minutes per mile. He decided he wanted to take a shot at making his life better and to feel better.
He joined a mileage club call the Pirate Challenge which is part of Running Lane, a program which took a running concept first pioneered by Steve Prefontaine, former 1970’s runner out of Oregon, who is regarded as one of the greatest long-distance runners in American history. Bell also began to visit Dr. Gerald Johnson Chiropractic and Sports Medicine, where his visits to Johnson and his intern Adam Zois did wonders with their treatment and also supporting Bell with emotional encouragement.
Since Bell’s running journey began in February, 2020, he has participated in 21 races placing in his age group 20 times, won his age group 13 times, won the Masters/Grand Masters division or set a new course record 10 different races, and overall, has logged over 2,100 miles in races and seen elevations increase hundreds of feet.
In the just completed winter season of running, Bell faced another challenge of 600 miles in 10 weeks. Many times with little sleep or time for physical recovery from a previous run, he took to local trails, never on roads for safety reasons, during some of the most uncomfortable weather conditions of wind, rain and freezing temperatures, many times in the dark of early morning before his duties at school. His hamstrings, back and calves would take a beating. His visits to Johnson and Zois sort of put his body back together again and again.
“The hours of running and praying through those conditions strengthened me and helped make me capable of going after a dream of qualifying for the New York City Marathon, one of the most difficult races in all the world and a race I have participated in years ago,” said Bell. “Qualifying time for my age group is 1-hour, 36-minutes.”
After several disappointments of not making the qualifying time, Bell took to the Tear Drop Half-Marathon in Chatsworth, Ga. He pushed his body and his mental state as far as one could do so and crossed the finish line nearly four a half minutes faster than the qualifying time for New York City. He finished with a time of 1:31.42, which puts him in the field of 33,000 runners on Nov. 7 in the New York City Marathon.
“This is the first summer I’m in physical shape and I have to do this,” said Bell. “I’m super excited to get up each morning and run.”
Bell has also qualified for the Xterra National Championship Trail Half-Marathon coming up Sept. 25 in Ogden, Utah. It’s a race where 10 years ago he placed third in the nation.
“This has been an incredible emotional, spiritual, mental and physical journey,” said Bell.
Bell and his son Jay, 22, will run together in the July 4 Peachtree 10K in Atlanta. He also has other events on his race schedule including Huntsville’s Cotton Row Run 10K set for Labor Day.
All of his running exploits are greatly supported by his wife of 27 years, Bobbi. He understands his time on the trails and in races is time away from his family, but this is something more than just getting into top physical condition. This is a spiritual awakening for the 2019 Alabama Girl’s Coach of the Year and one of eight finalists of National Coach of the Year after his squad won the school’s first AHSAA Class 7A State Championship.
“I’ve had lots of supporters in my life and that is a big advantage as so many people have believed in me,” said Bell, who once sported long hair and had his first coaching job at Pensacola Catholic High in 1989. “I remembered I tucked my hair up under my hat and applied for a job.”
His rise to personal satisfaction brings back memories of when he was running in college at Ole Miss he was struck by a car. He suffered a broken back and had both knees rebuilt and was away from running for over 15 months as part of his recovery. Nine years ago he went through a heart issue that was even more serious. Today, he rests properly and eats clean. He said he wants everyone to stop in their tracks and ask themselves how he is able to do what he is accomplishing.
To put his journey in prospective, Bell came down with COVID-19 in 2020 and for many days and nights suffered the effects of the virus that has killed millions worldwide.
“Our creator has a plan. I feel this is the last time I’ll have this chance as I’ve righted my life,” added Bell. “I want to make Madison proud.”