One year after near-fatal experience, Van Williams is grateful to be alive

Van Williams (right) and Aaron Wise (left) embrace during the first round of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships on May 29, 2015 in Brandenton, Florida (John Vu/Oregon Athletics)

Few days go by in which Van Williams doesn’t think about the morning his heart stopped beating.

Williams, now in his third year as an Oregon men’s golf assistant coach, was out on a run in Eugene the morning of Nov. 30, 2014. He intended to meet his wife, Dani Williams, somewhere along the last few miles. He never showed up.

Dani called him to find out where he was, but another person answered, telling her that Van was lying unconscious on the side of the road.

Dani hurried to her husband and when she got to him, found Van not breathing. Just as she arrived, an off-duty nurse spotted the two as he was driving by. The nurse recognized that Van had gone into cardiac arrest and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics continued to resuscitate Van on the way to the hospital. After 11 minutes without a pulse, his heart started beating again.

Van awoke from a coma the following afternoon to find that nothing was wrong with his heart. All tests came back normal.

“I truly believe it was a miracle,” Van said. “Just thankful that God allowed that miracle to take place.”

Van returned home to Dani and their four children a few days later, grateful to be alive.

The news of Van’s near-fatal episode certainly came as a shock to the Oregon men’s golf team. Head coach Casey Martin said he knew something was wrong when Dani called him that morning.

“I remember I was getting ready to go to church on a Sunday morning and I get this call from Dani and I’m like, ‘Huh, that’s weird,’ ” Martin said. “I picked it up and she said, ‘Look, something bad happened.’ I went in immediately to the ER, saw him and I thought he was a dead man.”

Martin hired Williams in July 2013 after then-assistant Brad Lanning took a job as Loyola Marymount’s head men’s golf coach.

Martin and Williams had known each other since they met at a PGA Tour event in 1998, and became good friends when Williams caddied for Martin on the tour from 2001 to 2004.

Before coming to Oregon, Williams was coaching golf and basketball at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Williams kept in contact with Martin, often calling Martin to pick his brain about golf coaching techniques. Though Williams’ goal was to become a Division I basketball coach, he told Martin of his growing desire to continue coaching golf. Once Lanning’s departure became official, Martin flew Williams out to Eugene during the July 4th weekend for an interview. Williams accepted the job shortly thereafter.

In the two and a half years since, Williams has helped coach two NCAA Championship qualifying teams and developed the likes of Thomas Lim and Aaron Wise, who each made the All-Pac-12 freshmen team in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

“Van is an interesting coach to have, because he doesn’t come from a golf background like a lot of assistants do, but he comes from a competitive background,” Wise said. “He’s someone we can turn to as players, someone we can talk to, someone who cheers us up when we’re down on the golf course.”

On the anniversary of his accident, Williams hiked Spencer Butte in the morning by himself, taking time to reflect on the experience and the year that followed.

“Any time that I complain, my wife smiles at me and says, ‘Yup, thankful you’re alive,’ ” Williams said. “It kind of puts in perspective anything that you go through in everyday life.”

The same perspective can be found among the men’s golf team. Those who were around the team a year ago haven’t forgotten Van’s scare. It serves as a reminder of how much the team is connected beyond the golf course.

“I think that was a big eye opener to us,” Lim said. “It’s a lot more than golf. We’re a family and we need to care about each other because you never know when people are gonna leave.”

Williams still wants to be a head coach someday, but has no plans to leave the Ducks in the immediate future.

“When those right positions begin to open up, I’ll apply, and I don’t know if that’s a year or 10 years,” Williams said. “I could definitely see myself here for a while. I’m in no rush.”

Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner