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James Clemens track and cross country coach Drew Bell is also a top-notch runner and he is in the midst of a comeback after a lengthy illness. Photo Contributed

Drew Bell- On The Comback, 10K Record Breaker

MADISON- Competing is in his blood. It’s a state of mind. If not competing in any shape or form, Drew Bell feels as though his day is not complete, thus the enthusiasm after his recent participation in the Rocket City 10K, which was part of the 2022 Rocket City Marathon three-day event in early December.

Suffering from an unknown illness which began with his third bout with COVID-19, Bell, head coach of the track and field and cross country programs at James Clemens High School, and who recently celebrated his 57th birthday in November, came off a six-month fight to regain his health and stamina to take part in the 10K event in downtown Huntsville. Finishing with a time of 45:53, Bell ran the fastest time in the history of the race by someone over 50 years of age, set a course record in the Grand Masters division, took first place in the 55-59 age division and was 11th overall out of 265 runners representing 20 different states.

“My illness started in the spring and I just couldn’t get well causing me many times not to be able to exercise,” said Bell. “I was bloated and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I visited many doctors with very little success.”

Even through early weeks of feeling terribly bad Bell participated in the annual May’s Cotton Row Run in Huntsville where he finished third in his age division in the 10K and was second in the event’s 5K race. He continued coaching his teams during the indoor and outdoor seasons and tried running to stay in shape, but each time he hit the roads for workouts it seemed to take three days to recover. His condition worsened to where he stop running for three months, but still continued coaching his athletes. “You must answer the call for the kids,” added Bell.

He had no stamina. Was nauseous on many occasions and the outdoor track season in 2022 was more or less miserable for the only track coach in the school’s history. It took every ounce of effort to make sure his athletes arrived at competitions. Bell added, “You push your mind and body so hard, they need to reset. I had to focus on teaching my classes in school and my coaching.”

His recovery has been unbelievable and Bell said he feels as he’s in better shape than three years ago when he was busy participating in national type events such as the New York City, Boston and Chicago Marathons. His success included winning three Masters National Championships and finishing runner-up in two others. For Bell, his drive to compete remains as strong as ever.

Bell recently completed a 40-mile weekly workout and continued his road work through the recent record setting cold snap experienced across the Tennessee Valley. “All of this really tests your patience as it’s been a long way back,” said Bell.

The 2019 United States Track and Field Cross Country Coach of the Year in Alabama and South Section Track Coach of the Year is looking to retirement as a teacher/coach at the completion of the 2023-2024 school year, which will give him 25 years in Alabama and 35 years overall as an educator. In the meantime, he has set an ambitious schedule including racing in six National Championship races in 2023. One in particular is the Masters National Championships scheduled for Louisville, Ky. March 10-12.

“I was invited to participate in the Cherry Blossom 10-mile race in Washington D.C. in April and that distance is my favorite length of racing,” said Bell.

His aspiring race schedule includes the Mt. Trail National Championships (May 23), Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh for the 10K and 5K races (July 7-9) and the RRCA 5K in nearby Anniston (August).

“The only thing I have to battle is my mind,” said Bell. “I’m excited where I am in my life as I’m still running after 52 years and I’m still competing. I say, get it on and get it done.”

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