It’s been said that sometimes the greatest adversities yield life’s greatest lessons.
For proof, you don’t have to look any farther than Manti teacher and soccer coach Gerald Wayman, who achieved a longtime goal while battling a life-threatening illness.
Not that he ever expected those two things to come together.
First, about the goal.
Like many other Utah parents, Wayman had a young son who developed an interest in soccer. He volunteered to coach a team with the Manti city recreation league to foster that interest, since it was the only option available at the time.
However, he soon realized as his players progressed that they would have to quit the sport early because there was no soccer program at Manti High School, where the boys would later be attending.
Together with other interested individuals from his own and neighboring communities, Wayman began to work towards getting soccer recognized as a sanctioned sport at the high school.
“The biggest challenge was that in order to make it work, we had to do it as a whole region at the same time,” the coach explained.
The Templars were grouped with Gunnison, North Sevier, Richfield, South Sevier and Millard in their region then.
“All of us had to coordinate together as communities,” Wayman said. “We had to push five different school districts at the same time to try to convince them all to do this when they’re naturally shy about starting something new and putting money behind it.”
Other teams were started in each of the areas to show there was sufficient interest to warrant the change. Gradually, the rising community support got the attention of the school boards.
Three years into the process, however, Wayman gradually became aware that something was going terribly wrong with his body.
“It was October of 2006 when I first started getting really sick,” he recalled. “I didn’t realize that my kidneys were shutting down.”
Wayman didn’t actually find that out until November, when his kidneys quit working altogether and he was rushed to the hospital.
His blood pressure was so high at 259/135 from all the toxins in his blood that he shouldn’t have survived the night. “I woke up the next morning with a whole bunch of tubes in me,” he said.
Wayman had to have dialysis three times a week for the first three months after this emergency. At that point, he was deemed healthy enough to do home dialysis four times a day.
The procedure, known as peritoneal dialysis, required Wayman to drain three liters of sugar water into his abdomen and drain it back out later.
For five months, Wayman had these treatments while he was still teaching his drafting and woodworking classes at the school and coaching his club team.
In fact, he had to go sit on the bus between varsity and JV games to make an exchange so he could stay on the dialysis schedule and still continue to coach.
As soon as the nature of his illness was known, Gerald’s brother Lynn Wayman volunteered to donate one of his kidneys to him. By June of 2007, Gerald was judged healthy enough to do the transplant.
The two of them entered the hospital together and spent the rest of the summer recuperating from the surgery.
“I was really sick and wanted a chance to get better,” Gerald said. “The toughest part for me was that Lynn went from being very healthy to weak and sick after the operation.
“I felt better almost immediately and recovered pretty fast, but he took a lot longer,” Gerald said. However, the brothers were able to resume their normal lives about two months later and have been going strong ever since.
It was also about that time that the Waymans learned that their petitions had been successful in convincing the school boards to add soccer.
The first official season for the team was the spring of 2008.
Since then, the city rec league has almost doubled in size. “A lot of people in the community have stepped up to coach and sponsor teams,” he said. “It takes a lot of work by parents and others to carry the program forward.”
The school teams originally shared a field in a city park, but the school board has since built them a field at the middle school in Ephraim, since there was no space on the high school campus.
“We’re very grateful to have our own facility,” the coach said. “Half the team lives there anyway so it’s a good field for us.”
This year, in their fifth season as a sanctioned program, the Templars won the 2A state title in the sport.
“I think we snuck up on a few people,” coach Wayman said. “Many were not thinking we were too serious about soccer.”
A significant milestone occurred when Manti managed to beat perennial power Waterford by double overtime in the quarterfinals.
“That made us believe we could make it to the championship,” Wayman said. “That was the turning point mentally for the kids.
“We’d only won one state game previous to that, a 2OT shootout with Wendover. No one thought we could beat Waterford. The kids realized we could not only match them but beat them. After that you couldn’t stop them; they were hungry and went all the way.”
Wayman, who just turned 49, has managed to live five healthy years since his transplant, but that has come with a set of its own challenges.
“One of the things you have to deal with when you have a transplant is that the body knows the new part is not yours and will attack it,” he explained.
He must take immuno-suppressive drugs to control that for the rest of his life. The medicines have side effects, including leaving him vulnerable to infections, but he’s managed pretty well given the exposure he gets in the school setting.
“I just tell all my students if you’re sick, don’t come to class,” he said. “I have hand sanitizer by the door and everyone uses it who comes into the room.”
He’s also helped by the fact that sawdust is a clean material that doesn’t carry germs and his labs are separate from other classrooms.
He said he tries not to shake hands, though that’s hard sometimes because the kids want to exchange high-fives.
“Once I explain it to them, they’re very conscious about it,” Wayman said. “They’ll back off or warn me; they help me out. The students are aware and are good to keep their distance. I have worn a mask when it seemed like everybody in the school was sick.”
As for Lynn, he’s preparing to fulfill a personal goal of his own. The brothers were swimmers in high school, and Lynn is training right now to participate in the Escape from Alcatraz aquathlon in California.
“It just goes to show that you can give organs away or get them and have a perfectly normal life,” Gerald concluded.
For more information about organ donation or to register as a donor, go to www.yesutah.org, the official organ donor registry for the state of Utah.
Beky Beaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @BeatonWrite.