Why He Runs
In a video by Dick’s Sporting Goods last spring, viewers got an inside look at the daily routine of marathon runner Steve Bell ’06.
We see the Ithaca College graduate getting up at 7:30 a.m., his alarm clock surrounded by prescription bottles. He takes 50 to 70 pills a day, depending on how many he needs. He spends an hour and a half using a couple of different inhalers—one to open the airways and one to fight the bacteria in his lungs. Then he uses a vest that shakes his upper body to loosen the mucus in his lungs and allow him to get it out.
“It’s a full-time job,” he says in the video. “It gets to the point that everything you do has a direct correlation to your health.”
Despite his debilitating condition, Bell played varsity soccer at IC and has run seven marathons, six of them in less than four hours. After appearing in an issue of Runner’s World, he was featured last spring in the Dick’s Sporting Goods’ series of videos called Why I Run.
“When I first start to open up on a run,” he says in the video, “it’s like an exoneration from cystic fibrosis. It’s like, ‘I’m going to beat you, and I’m going to take on this run, and I’m going to do it how I want to.’ I run because one day I might not be able to.”
The main symptom of Bell’s cystic fibrosis is difficulty breathing. The disease also impacts his digestion and nutrition. His body only processes a portion of the nutrients and calories that he takes in from food, so he has to balance his meals carefully. He takes medications every time he eats, as many as 12 pills per meal and between 4 and 8 pills with each snack.
That didn’t stop him from performing at a high level on the Bomber men’s soccer team as a four-year starter, team captain, and all-conference selection. As coach Andy Byrne said in a newspaper article, “Steve’s just like everyone else; he just coughs a lot.”
Bell arrived on campus for his freshman year and made the soccer team after its open tryout sessions. Even though he missed the first two to three weeks of preseason training and the camaraderie that developed among many of the team’s members, he fit in immediately and his drive won him a starting role as a freshman.
In one early-season practice, Bell recalled that players were divided into two teams and played shirts versus skins. At that time, Bell still used a feeding tube, which he used for about 10 years, so he had a tube sticking out of his stomach. The coaches and athletic training staff knew about Bell’s cystic fibrosis, but that scrimmage showed many of his teammates that Bell was dealing with something none of them could imagine.
“I knew I had to deal with [cystic fibrosis],” Bell says. “You learn throughout life that if you downplay it, other people will downplay it, and if you make a big deal about it, then other people will.”
Bell began running seriously after his collegiate soccer career ended and he became immersed in the corporate world. Running was a way for him to stay active and relieve stress, as well as a way for him to satisfy a competitive-sport void that his soccer career had once filled.
Bell first ran a half marathon with friends; then he decided to compete in full marathons, the first of which was in San Diego in 2008. Participation in six other marathons followed, with one race in Chicago, one in Pittsburgh, and three in New York City. His seventh marathon was in June in San Francisco. He finished all six of those races in under four hours.
Though running is Bell’s passion, advertising is his mainstay. He works in New York City as an account supervisor for Havas, a global advertising, digital, and communications company, where he manages relationships between the advertising firm’s creative team and his clients’ needs.
Many of his accounts are in the medical and health care fields. A business major at Ithaca College, Bell said a senior-year course in marketing strategy taught by Donald Eckrich was especially important in preparing him for his career in advertising.
Bell now lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he still follows Bomber sports, especially the soccer programs. He returns to campus and the Ithaca community annually, and in April he visited campus for the soccer program’s annual alumni game.
For the latest updates on Bell's races and work in raising funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis, visit his website and blog at www.outrunningtheodds.com.
Editor's Note: The video on Steve Bell was produced by fellow alumnus Jason DeLand '98, cofounder of Anomaly, an advertising firm whose clients include Dick's Sporting Goods as well as Budweiser.