Ganbarimasu is a Japanese term that defines and characterizes Lance Beckert’s life.
Loosely translated, it means, “Do your best, hang in there, keep moving forward, carry through, putting up with difficulties, overcoming all hardships.”
Yeah, that’s it.
The basketball man, who has worked at Utah State for nearly two decades now, including eight seasons on former head coach Stew Morrill’s staff, spent another chunk of his existence playing, teaching, coaching basketball in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Now, he is fighting for his life in the Land of Logan.
His story at present is not unlike others, those who are afflicted by kidney disease, and, in his case, kidney failure, and in his case again, brought on by the COVID virus. That’s what he believes, anyway.
He discovered earlier this year, pretty much out of the Aggie blue, that his kidney function is down to zero percent, which necessitates three four-hour-long dialysis sessions per week.
If you don’t know what dialysis is, you’ll only want to know if your life depends on it. Otherwise, you might prefer to blow right on past an explanation. A crude, abbreviated description is this: It’s a process in which an individual is hooked up to a machine that sucks out the blood, cleanses it, and reinserts it into the body, on account of the fact that the kidneys cannot perform this necessary filtering.
Beckert’s survival now orbits around the process that is preserving it.
He’s in search of a suitable kidney, one that matches his own blood and tissue type, one that could return his life to complete normalcy, if properly transplanted. The good news for all you humans out there with healthy kidneys is that you have two, and you only need one. You can lend both a hand and a kidney to someone in need, then, if you’re a good match.
The other option for Beckert, and people like him, is to get on a waiting list for a donated kidney from a deceased person, a volunteer who checked the box on their driver license, allowing for their organs to be donated in case of death. People who make their organs available, unfortunately, are too few. Beckert’s wait time for such a matching kidney is somewhere between three and five years.
He waits and hopes, though, still.
Beckert’s journey started in Mesa, Ariz., where he grew up in a traditional family setting in a neighborhood straight out of Steven Spielberg’s middle-class America. He played basketball and baseball, as he says it, “not excelling at either,” adding that there was “nothing spectacular there.”
But after spending two years on a church mission in Japan, there was something at least moderately spectacular there, if there is such a thing. Namely, he somehow transformed himself into a decent shooting guard. A university in Japan — a school called Daito Bunka — recruited him and he played while earning a degree in economics in 1997.
“I wasn’t the biggest or tallest,” he says, “but I could shoot the ball a little bit.”
And he could speak Japanese.
Toshiba, a team in the Japanese Basketball League, wanted him, but after looking him over closely, everybody on hand decided he’d make a better coach.
Beckert had planned on a career in the HR department of some corporation somewhere, but … suddenly, he was a professional basketball instructor. In five years at Toshiba, the team won two league championships. Next thing, his alma mater came calling, asking him to be the school’s head coach. He also helped coach the national junior team in Japan.
“We didn’t qualify for anything [internationally],” he says. “But we tried real hard.”
His school team, however, won five league championships in seven years under his direction.
“I felt like I had a knack for teaching and coaching the game,” he says. “I was never a stellar player, but I had success in guiding and leading young players as they grew, as they grew into adults.”
That’s the inward place from which Beckert found his professional satisfaction. Nobody in the United States knew or gave a flying front door about what he was achieving in Japan.
“It’s a job of anonymity,” he says. “Nobody cares back home …”
“… It was never about the accolades.”
As fulfilling as all that was, as he had a family, children to raise, he wanted them to grow up in the States, so he moved to Logan, where his brother was a professor.
Living off the savings he’d garnered overseas, Beckert volunteered as a video coordinator for the freshly renewed women’s basketball team at Utah State in 2005. Raegan Pebley, who was the head coach, soon understood that Beckert was not only well versed in the game, but that he could communicate his knowledge effectively. He was promoted to head of basketball operations for the team, traveling with the women for games, never being paid a single cent for his efforts.
Soon thereafter, Morrill hired Beckert as his own director of basketball ops, as his DOBO, a position that actually paid him for his acumen and organizational skills and energy, of which he had much. That lasted those eight seasons.
“It was the time of my life,” he says.
But it was a time that still fell short in the important category of remuneration. Unless you were a top assistant, or an assistant at a premium program, or able to get a job as a head coach, the pay suffered.
“I had to get off that horse,” he says.
He moved to USU’s school of business as a development officer, which is a nice title for what amounted to convincing wealthy alums and community members to donate big sums of money to the university.
“I played a lot of golf,” he says. “It was a cross between sales and recruiting. It’s a schmooze-fest.”
He did that for three years, and then moved on to raise funds for the school of education, but, all along, he had a difficult time attending Utah State basketball games, sitting in the stands with about 10,000 know-it-all coaches screaming about this and that.
Beckert volunteered, again, to be down near the floor, reviewing video for the team. That led to a color analyst job on radio for Aggies game broadcasts, a position that went swimmingly for him until … he came down with COVID-19 in November of last year.
That knocked him hard, sending him back and forth for stays in the hospital, with all the serious respiratory symptoms that dreaded virus can create. Over a period of five weeks, he says he was “foggy” in his brain and thereafter, he suffered from high blood pressure.
In January, he went in for a physical, as he was required to do annually as a collegiate baseball umpire, another of his passions. The doctor found that his kidney function had dropped to just 30 percent. A month later, it fell to 12 percent. Then, it slipped lower and lower.
“I had chronic kidney failure,” he says.
Doctors won’t come out and pronounce it, but Beckert is absolutely convinced it was a permanent result of his battle with COVID.
That’s when the dialysis began, and it has remained, keeping the 51-year-old former coach breathing.
He compares the way he feels at times to “running a marathon.” The minerals and vitamins his kidneys normally would filter are not filtered, and those elements then turn poisonous. And that, in turn, causes — or can cause — heart damage.
“I can either stop dialysis and die,” he says, “or I can keep doing it and hope for a kidney transplant.”
He’s going with option No. 2.
“My goal,” he says, “is to stay alive and support my kids as long as I can.”
Thing is, as mentioned, if he were to find a suitable transplant match, he could live a normal life again.
Thus far, Beckert hasn’t found any among family members. So, he waits … and waits … and waits … and hopes for a match from somewhere, anywhere else.
He wants to get this word out to everyone, for the good of everyone, not just himself: Please check that box as an organ donor. It can save thousands of lives.
It can save Lance Beckert’s life.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up on some days,” he says. “I just want to see my son play football, my daughter play at her piano recitals. But I’m doing OK. I’m just doing my best, going forward, hanging in there.”