Lindsey Van is a hero, too

It is perhaps Lindsey Van's lot in life that her name sounds a lot like Lindsey Vonn's, and while Lindsey Van is a world-champion ski jumper and her sport isn't even in the Olympics -- not yet, anyway -- Lindsey Vonn is an alpine racer and an Olympic gold-medalist who gets loads of attention and commercials and even a spot on "Law and Order" and generally gets treated like the American hero she is. But Lindsey Van is a hero, too.

Lindsey Van, the 2009 ski-jumping world champion, spent Monday in San Francisco with a needle in her right arm and another in her left.  One needle sucked blood out of her. The other put it back into her. Her blood will help save the life of a man she has never met.

All she knows about him is that he is 49 years old and has leukemia.

Any number of athletes talk a good game about doing the right thing. Then there is someone like Lindsey Van, who submitted herself to nasty drugs and endured the discomfort if not outright pain of a procedure that no one forced her to do -- that she did because it was simply the honorable and decent thing to do.

"I just think," she said beforehand, in an interview from Park City, Utah, where she lives, "it's the human thing to do."

She also said, "If my family was sick, if I was sick -- I would want someone to donate for me or my family. If you want to expect a transplant, you have to elect to give one. You have to donate yourself."

Such simple logic, such elemental humanity, and yet there is all the more dignity in the story because, after all, the rules are that Lindsey doesn't know who she's donating to.

This, though, didn't exactly start that way.

Lindsey's former roommate, Seun Adebiyi, had been diagnosed with a rare leukemia.

He needed a bone-marrow transplant.

He tried, and he searched. But he could not find a match. Naturally enough, he turned to his friends, and asked them to sign up for a donation registry.

So Lindsey did -- at a website called, which coordinates potential bone-marrow donors.

It turned out she was not a match for Seun.

As it turned out, she said, about a year ago, Sean did get a transplant, and he seems to be getting better.

Meanwhile, she said, after signing up at the website, she got a call. Did she want to follow through?

This is where the story turns. Instead of saying, no, I was in this only for Seun -- Lindsey said, sure, of course, I am glad to help.

Be the Match sent her a cheek swab; she sent it back.

At this point -- really, at any point -- she could have withdrawn her name from the registry.

That, though, was never really an option for Lindsey. Once she was in, she was in.

And then came another call: you're a perfect match, they said, for this 49-year-old man.

The rules don't permit Lindsey to meet him on the grounds that he -- like all recipients -- should focus strictly on recovery.

The timing, as it were, couldn't have turned out better. The 2011 ski-jump championships were held in February, in Norway, so the season was essentially over.

The International Olympic Committee is widely expected in the coming weeks to announce it will add women's ski jumping to the program for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. But because women's ski jumping is not yet formally part of the Olympic program, the blood-boosting drugs that Lindsey had to take last week at home in Utah to get her system ready for donation Monday in San Francisco -- well, none of that formally had to be of any concern to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Last week, in Park City, the doctors' orders were to sit around and do not much, to let the drugs do their thing. There was time to be philosophical.

"There's life outside sport," Lindsey was saying on the phone. "You have to be thankful for what you have. You have to give back. If it's something big like this -- ok, awesome. If it's something little, that's awesome, too.

"Life is bigger than sport. His life will change because of this. So for me -- why not jump on it?"

On Monday in San Francisco, the needles were in Lindsey's arms by 6:30 in the morning. She spent the next three hours watching her blood go out, and in, and spin -- that is, to a machine that spun her blood around and around, multiple times separating out plasma and stem cells, the stuff that will go into a 49-year-old man she has never met.

"I was feeling pretty good," she said afterward, though "a little strange after having been on the machine for hours."

There were supposed to be multiple sessions on the needles. But the technicians got all they needed from Lindsey that first time -- perhaps the benefit of being a world-class athlete.

"I plan to start training again, doing active activities, yoga and skiing again this week," she said. "It wasn't even a week of down time for me.

"If you consider that somebody who's going to receive what they took out of me has been sick for a very long time -- I really don't think this has been too much to ask.

"Really, I don't."