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Milt Campbell, Olympic Decathalon Champion

On November 2nd, 2012, 78-year-old Milt Campbell died after suffering a long battle with diabetes and prostate cancer. He was most famous for his 1956 gold medal that made him the first African-American winner of the Olympic decathlon. He was one of the most versatile athletes of all time.

At Plainfield High School in New Jersey, Campbell was world-class in track and field, and at the same time a champion swimmer and an outstanding football player. He beat the state champion in his weight division in his only high school wrestling match. He went to college at Indiana University, left to join the Navy and returned to Indiana to star in track and field and football. He was also outstanding in bowling, tennis, wrestling, judo, and karate.

He was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989, the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992, the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2012, and was named New Jersey Athlete of the Century in 2000.

Olympic Champion and World-Record Holder
As an 18-year-old high school senior, he tried out for the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team and made the team in his first competition in the decathlon. He competed in his second decathlon a few weeks later in the Helsinki Olympics to finish second to Bob Mathias. Four years later, Campbell won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In 1957, he set world records in the indoor 60-yard high hurdles and the outdoor 120 high hurdles. He was also an outstanding football player who played for the Cleveland Browns, and in Canada for the Montreal Alouettes.

How He Beat the State High School Wrestling Champion
Campbell told this story about his high school wrestling career. "One day, the wrestling team had an important match against top-rated Jefferson High. I wanted to see it so bad that I told my swimming coach, Mr. Liske, that I was sick and couldn’t swim that day. He said ‘OK, go home and get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Instead of going home, I went up through a back stairwell and entered a back door to the gymnasium so I could watch the match. I was near the locker room and when the door opened I could see our heavyweight throwing up . . . I told the wrestling coach that I would take his place. Coach told me: ‘Thanks Milt, but you’d get hurt. This Jefferson guy’s a killer. One of the best in the state.’"

As this was the last match and the teams were tied, the team with the winner of the heavyweight division would win the match. Campbell said, "I pinned the guy in one minute and 28 seconds and Plainfield won the match. That guy went on to win the state title, by the way."

Incredible Talent Unappreciated
Milt felt slighted because he did not receive the endorsements and adulation accorded to other Olympic decathlon champions. Bob Mathias became a five-term congressman and Rafer Johnson became a political confidant of the Kennedy family. Bill Toomey received ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1968 and the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1969. Bruce Jenner became a Hollywood movie star.

His lack of recognition could have been because the Olympics were not televised extensively in 1956, or because he played football in Canada rather than in the United States. Campbell explained that just before the start of the 1958 football season, Cleveland Browns Coach Paul Brown asked why Campbell had married a white woman. He told Brown that it was none of his business. He was cut from the team the next day and had to play football in Canada. At that time half of the states had anti-miscegenation laws.

How Weight Gain Leads to Diabetes
Milt Campbell was 6' 3" tall. His huge bones made up most of his weight while he was active as an athlete; at about 220 pounds he had very little body fat. However, as he approached middle age, he gained weight and became diabetic. More than a decade before he died, he developed prostate cancer and it spread to the bones of his spine. He was treated with chemotherapy that made him very sick. The nerves in his right leg were damaged by the combination of his diabetes, the spread of prostate cancer and the chemotherapy, and he was bedridden. Eventually he was able to get into a wheelchair and progressed to using a walker and was able to walk with a cane. However, the combination of prostate cancer and diabetes damaged his entire body and he died on November 2, 2012.

Nobody can afford to gain weight. Most North Americans gain at least five pounds and 3.4" around the waist for every decade past 40. Here is how gaining weight leads to diabetes:
• Your liver regulates blood sugar levels.
• If blood sugar levels drop, your liver releases sugar from its cells to raise blood sugar levels.
• If blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas releases insulin that lowers blood sugar by driving sugar into your liver cells.
• Excess sugar is stored as triglycerides (fats)
• When you deposit fat into liver cells (Fatty Liver), the liver cells are unable to respond to insulin and do the opposite of what they are supposed to do. When blood sugar levels are high, liver cells release sugar and pour it into the bloodstream. Also liver cells manufacture new sugar from protein and release the newly-formed sugar into the bloodstream. So fat in the liver cells raises blood sugar levels by releasing the liver's stored sugar into the bloodstream and by making more sugar when blood sugar levels are already high.

Diabetes Increases Cancer Risk
Many studies show that diabetics are at markedly increased risk for many different cancers. Having high rises in blood sugar levels after meals also increases cancer risk, even if you are not diabetic. Breast and prostate cancers, in particular, are associated with high rises in blood sugar.
See Link Between Sugar and Cancer
Cancer Patients Should Avoid Foods that Cause a High Rise in Blood Sugar
Belly Fat Causes Diabetes, Heart Attacks

When Prostate Cancer Kills
More than 95 percent of prostate cancers will never spread to other parts of the body and do not ever cause any trouble. However, a small percentage of prostate cancers will spread to other parts of the body and are fatal. Cancers kill by moving to other parts of the body to destroy them. For example, prostate cancer does not kill when cancer cells are only in the prostate. If they travel to your brain, spine, liver or lungs they destroy these other vital tissues. Diabetes greatly increases the chance of any cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Milt Campbell's prostate cancer spread through his body and went to his spine to damage the nerves to his legs.

What You Can Learn from this Sad Medical History
• All athletes should continue to exercise and avoid gaining extra weight for the rest of their lives. Former athletes are 28 percent less likely to develop diabetes than non-athletes (Diabetologia, November 15, 2013) primarily because most continue to exercise throughout their lives.
Exercise specifically helps to prevent and treat prostate cancer. Exercise helps to prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and many types of cancer. If you are not an athlete, you should start an exercise program because it matters far more that you exercise as you age than what you did in high school or college. You should follow all the guidelines for preventing and treating diabetes.
Longer telomeres predict survival in cancer. Recent data show that men who have prostate cancer can reduce their risk for dying from that disease by improving their lifestyles. Lifestyle changes lengthen telomeres in men who have prostate cancer.
Genes that cause prostate cancer are normalized with lifestyle changes
Foods that cause a high rise in blood sugar increase risk for prostate cancer
Fish oil pills are associated with increased prostate cancer risk

My Recommendations, Whether or Not You Have Prostate Cancer
• Exercise long and hard
• Avoid sugared drinks and sugar-added foods except during vigorous exercise
• Avoid fried foods and red meat
• Eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables
• Get blood levels of hydroxy Vitamin D above 75 nmol/L by sun exposure
• Grow muscle
• Lose fat
• Avoid alcohol and even third-hand smoke
• Avoid exposure to known carcinogens such as agent orange, phthalates, etc.

Milt Campbell
Born December 12, 1933 Died November 2, 2012

February 23rd, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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