By Julie Gebhard, TIMES SPORTS STAFF
Published: Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:55 PM EDT
Reprinted with permission by the Beaver County Times
Times file photo by LUCY SCHALY DOMINANT DECADES: With over 600 career wins, Ron Galbreath earned a spot in the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
BEAVER FALLS — It’s only July, but Ron Galbreath can’t wait for basketball season to begin.
Last year, for the first time since 1969, Galbreath was not coaching a college basketball team. A stroke suffered in March of 2008 kept him away from coaching the Geneva College women’s basketball program, a program that he led to the NAIA national tournament in 2007. He had previously coached men’s and women’s college teams in some capacity for over 30 years and through 633 wins.
Now he’s back.
“His recovery was miraculous,” said Van Zanic, Geneva’s sports information director. “He’s the same guy, yet surprisingly with even a bit more hop in his step since his return.”
The stroke left Galbreath paralyzed on his right side. He was admitted to The Medical Center, Beaver, where he was diagnosed, then immediately transferred to Allegheny General Hospital.
Three days after the stroke, he sensed tingling in his right fingers. A week after that, his toes began to regain feeling.
“It was the most wonderful feeling in the world knowing that I was likely going to walk again,” said Galbreath, 68.
After his stay at AGH, he underwent three weeks of occupational, speech and physical therapy at Harmarville Rehabilitation Center in Harmar Township.
“It was challenging for my entire family,” says Galbreath, “But I made it my goal to walk out of that rehab center, not with the assistance of a wheelchair. I did it for my three wonderful granddaughters.”
Although he made rapid progress, he elected to take a one-year hiatus from coaching. So for the 2008-09 season, Amy Russin, a former standout point guard who graduated from Geneva 10 years ago, stepped in to replace the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame coach.
“I was just happy to step in and help out,” said Russin, who teaches accounting at Geneva. “My aim was to get everyone going in a positive direction and maintain things. It was definitely a growing year.”
Although she is no longer on the coaching staff, Russin has a great relationship with Galbreath in a 9-15 season and would frequently consult him.
“I wanted to make sure he was included,” she said. “This was his program, his recruits, and his team.”
Galbreath made sure to back off completely from coaching duties when Russin took over. He did, though, attend most of the home games and frequently popped in the office to provide encouragement to the players.
“He would be watching his team and supporting them from the stands,” Zanic said, “but he was certainly champing at the bit to come back.”
Healthy again, Galbreath was reinstated in March.
Then, six weeks ago, he and his wife of 40 years, Pat, were involved in a car accident. Galbreath suffered a broken left collarbone, and he is just starting to regain full-range mobility in his arm.
“It was quite disappointing to have this set me back further in my recovery process,” he said. “I’m lucky, though, that it wasn’t worse.”
Despite all that has happened, Galbreath remains in the highest of spirits. If he has any lingering effects of the stroke, they aren’t noticeable.
“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Galbreath said. “I’m just excited to be back on the job and returning to my normal way of life.”
Now if only basketball season could get here a little quicker.
Geneva College hosts a chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honors society open to English and Writing majors of high academic standing.