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The Bionic Man Reinvents Himself. Again.

June 24, 2023 4 min read 2 Comments

The Bionic Man Reinvents Himself. Again.

Photo:Jerry Cahill with one of his vaulters, Julian Lynch.


*Jerry is a triple-organ recipient. He honors donors with supreme effort. 

*Doctors told his parents he wouldn't live past 18. He turns 67 Tuesday.

*He is a spokesperson for The Boomer Esiason Foundation. 

By Ray Glier

He was just 10 years old and Jerry Cahill’s trajectory was not up, like most of the other kids in his Brooklyn neighborhood. It was down. Almost straight down. He was diagnosed with his cystic fibrosis and the doctors told his parents, Edward and Mary, Jerry would be lucky to reach 18.

Cahill is 66 now and has a fistful of house money, the countermarching deed of keeping his and taking some of theirs. He has punched back at CF by running marathons. He pole vaulted in college. Jerry currently coaches high school pole vaulting and does 40k-bike rides.

This Bionic Man, who has had a double-lung transplant, a liver transplant, and a kidney transplant, turns 67 Tuesday. He was no glass child.

“It was exercise, the single most important thing in my life,” Jerry said explaining his implausible and preposterous journey.

“My mother wanted to put me in a bubble. My father put me out there with my three older brothers and I played sports with them, not in the pee wee leagues, but with big kids. I wasn't any good, but I kept exercising. I wouldn’t say to myself ‘you’re sick, you shouldn’t be doing this’.”

Jerry said life has been a scary and fitful ride.

And then he tells you about all the sun at midnight, the good will from the many people eager to help him at his late hour.

Jerry's spirit lifts him up, literally and figuratively. Here is a link to the engaging documentary on him, "Up for Air."

Cahill is almost two years past the kidney/liver transplant, a 16-hour operation, which took place during the Pandemic. He will not be in Pittsburgh for the National Senior Games, but he plans to be in some competitive bike events once he gets fully recovered from the transplants.

Fully recovered? Jerry has never really been 100 percent. But don’t tell him that. In fact, Cahill makes a living telling people to enjoy life and not wait for it to be 100 percent perfect.

After a successful career as vice president of a clothing company, then two years on disability after the transplants, he is back working again, this time clothing people in hope.

Jerry is the director for Team Boomer, or spokesperson for The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which was started by the former pro quarterback after his son, Gunnar, was diagnosed at 2 with CF. Gunnar is still alive as modern medicine has made it more possible for many to survive with the disease.

When he speaks to an audience, Cahill is a mirror of hope for people with children with CF, or with CF themselves. He believes his doctrinaire, "You cannot fail" and it's printed on a tee-shirt and the cover of one of his books.

Look at the picture that goes with this story. Fifty-seven years ago, who would have guessed Jerry would still be on his feet, still breathing, much less coaching and flashing thumbs up, as if the only way is up, or forward. Look at his website for fuel if you feel like taking a day off from moving.

Jerry's athletes at two New York City prep schools, Iona Prep and Fordham Prep, do not get a coach just happy to be there. They get a taskmaster, who demands accountability. Cahill does not give out hall passes. He coaches.

You Geezer Jocks who pole vault, here is a lesson from a master:

What’s key to his coaching is his own lack of natural speed. Cahill never had an explosive takeoff at the top of the pole vault runway. He also grew up on steel poles, the kind that did not bend like today’s fiberglass poles.

Without speed and with steel, Cahill taught himself a high pole plant, how to jump, and how to swing. He was all about technique, not just athleticism.

Some of Jerry’s kids at first want the fiberglass pole to do most of the work and work hard to bend it to lift themselves over the bar. But Cahill will give a 125-pound kid a 160-pound test pole that doesn’t bend so easily and the kid has to learn how to plant, how to jump, and how to swing. Then the magic happens and they succeed and they smile.

They smile even more when their coach will do some drills with them over a 6-foot high bar.

“They get a kick out of it like ‘look at this old guy swinging over the bar’,” Cahill said. “They are amazed at my technique.”

Jerry’s body has been fairly well cut up by surgeons, but he is not afraid to get six feet off the ground and land. He was not a glass child and he is not a glass man.

“I don’t feel fragile,” Jerry said, “though I suppose I am. But I don’t think that way.”

What Cahill thinks about every day—and the lesson for all Geezer Jocks who have been through trauma—is how to “reinvent myself.”

Jerry no longer runs marathons, but he will bike miles and miles. He is not accepting infirmity by not running, Cahill is just strategizing how to get more out of his body than it is willing to give, so he bikes. He once fired a doctor who told Jerry after a coughing fit “this is your new baseline.”

“The heck it is,” Cahill shot back.

I asked Jerry where this imprinting of resilience on his psyche comes from.

“I never wanted to be viewed differently,” Jerry said. “When I was younger, I never told anybody about my disease. I just did what I had to do. It's my nature. It's just me.

"I just didn't like feeling sick and being an invalid. I like being out with people. In spite of all my health issues and near death experiences I always wanted to do more and be part of the game of life.”

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2 Responses

I. George Febles
I. George Febles

June 29, 2023

All the best, Jerry
George, Sr.

Barbara Wintroub
Barbara Wintroub

June 29, 2023

Recently, I’ve been questioning myself and my ability to compete. Jerry is a true motivator. His story is giving me strength to carry on.

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