HC coach Allen details his chemical disorder
By Jennifer Toland, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 8/5/2003
WORCESTER -- Holy Cross football coach Dan Allen said yesterday he has been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, a condition that has affected his neuromuscular system and forced him to use a wheelchair to get around, but he remains optimistic about a recovery and has every intention of coaching the Crusaders this fall.
''Besides my family, football is my life,'' said Allen as he prepared for Patriot League media day today in Bethlehem, Pa. ''Being with my players and staff keeps me going.''
Allen's announcement ended months of speculation regarding his health. Multiple chemical sensitivity is a disorder triggered by exposure to chemicals in the environment.
''Basically what happens is, any time you get around any type of chemical, you're very sensitive,'' Allen said. ''You can have dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea. Ultimately what happened in my situation is it also affected my neuromuscular system. As the doctors explained to me, the chemicals cross the blood/brain barrier.
''I'm working with my doctors to stop the reactions and in time I won't be as sensitive. It's a timely process and I'm not healing as quickly as I'd like, but we're getting there inch by inch.''
Allen said it took doctors some time to arrive at the diagnosis.
''It is something a lot of people don't know a lot about,'' Allen said. ''It takes time [to diagnose] because the symptoms copy the symptoms of certain neuromuscular diseases.''
Allen, 47, took a four-week medical leave of absence last season but returned to coach for the final four games. At home games, he coached from a private box at Fitton Field. In his absence, defensive coordinator Leo Fanning and offensive coordinator Bob Griffin shared the coaching duties.
Early last season, Allen was hampered by a bothersome hip, and upon his return from the leave of absence, his mobility had deteriorated further and he walked with the aid of a cane.
He continues to have difficulty getting around.
''I can't walk that well,'' Allen said. ''That's one of the most frustrating things. I'm hoping it's a temporary thing and in time I will regain my strength in my muscles and nerves.''
Practice for the 2003 season begins next Tuesday, and Allen will oversee the sessions from his wheelchair or a golf cart. He plans to continue coaching home games from the box. The Crusaders open Sept. 6 at Lehigh.
''One good thing about football is the team approach to coaching,'' athletic director Dick Regan said. ''We have a very experienced and capable staff. The head coach provides a lot of vision and makes the major decisions. I feel comfortable with where we're at.
''We support Dan as he continues his treatments to regain his physical health. We believe that we have a very capable coaching staff and we feel that with Dan's leadership we can continue to have a competitive football program.''
Allen, who has two years remaining on his contract, is entering his eighth season (25-52) as the Crusaders' coach. HC's best year under him was 2000, when it went 7-4 for the program's first winning season since 1992.
Allen coached six years at Boston University, guiding the Terriers to Division 1-AA playoff bids in 1993 and 1994. After leading the Terriers to a 12-1 mark in '93, he was named 1-AA National Coach of the Year. ''The hardest thing is probably having my family see me in a different way,'' Allen said. ''They don't have Dad the way they did. There's no tossing the baseball around and things like that.
''The other tough thing is just the process of fighting your way to get your health back.''
Allen had extensive dental work done last fall ''to remove the mercury [dental] fillings. We had to get all of the mercury out of my system. That is part of it.''
Until yesterday, Allen and Holy Cross, citing the coach's privacy, refused to disclose his ailment.
''I wanted to put to rest the rumors and let people know what's going on,'' Allen said.
''The timing was very important, to get it out now and get the questions and rumors out of the way, just so that we can concentrate on the task at hand, and that is our game Sept. 6 at Lehigh.''
This story ran on page C7 of the Boston Globe on 8/5/2003.
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