Former Rebel Continues To Show Heart
Aug. 4, 2014
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) - Former UNLV offensive lineman Cliff Conedy most recently participated for Team Nevada in the Transplant Games in Houston, Texas. The team won a total of nine medals (five gold, two silver and two bronze medals) and individually Conedy won a silver medal in table tennis and a bronze medal in the discus.
Conedy needed a heart transplant after being diagnosed with a hereditary heart defect. His heart started to fail and he was transported to the UCLA Medical Center and after only five days he had his transplant on Sept. 9, 2008.
As a Rebel, Conedy lettered during the 1973 and '74 seasons under coach Ron Meyer. He helped UNLV to a 12-1 record, its best record in school history, in 1974, as the Rebels went undefeated during the year and suffered its only loss in the semifinals of the NCAA II Playoffs.
Conedy reflected on his time as a Rebel and talked about his trip to Houston with UNLVRebels.com.
What made you choose to play college football at UNLV, which at the time had a football program that was just a few years old?
I was junior college transfer from San Mateo Junior College. The reason I came to UNLV was basically because it was a new program and the weather in Las Vegas. When I came here in March of 1973 it was 80 degrees. In the Bay Area, where I had just finished playing ball, it was rainy, cloudy and overcast all of the time. So I came out on the recruiting trip and the weather was beautiful. They had AstroTurf out at the Silver Bowl and I had a personal best in the 40-yard dash. I really loved the city and the weather. The university was small but that wasn't a factor for me. I just enjoyed the environment at the time.
What was your greatest memory as a Rebel?
The year before I got here the team was 1-10. We were coming and they were talking about eliminating college football at UNLV. Our first year we went 8-3 and the second year we went 11-0 in the regular season and 12-1 overall. Being a part of turning around a program that was on the verge of being eliminated and also doing it on a team that was later inducted into the UNLV Hall of Fame in 1988. That was probably the most exciting part of being a part of UNLV football for me.
How was it playing for Ron Meyer on one of the best teams in UNLV history?
It was great because we had excellent assistant coaches as well as a great head coach in Ron Meyer. He was good as a front man and PR person for the program. We got the best one-on-one coaching that I had ever experienced. He brought a little bit of his professional experience from the Dallas Cowboys. Getting that personalized attention was something new for me and the other guys.
This year will be the 40th Anniversary of that 1974 season; do you still keep in contact with any of your teammates? And what are those conversations like?
Oh yeah, quite a few of the guys. We get caught up on what has been going on. Not a lot of the guys knew I was a heart transplant recipient. When I played in the Transplant Games I ran into one of my former teammates, Steve Haggerty (WR), who was a double lung transplant recipient. I had not seen him since 1974. Running into him was an awesome experience. In the short period of time we had a chance to talk we got caught up on a lot of information on the other guys.
What have you been doing since leaving UNLV?
After I left UNLV, I initially tried a professional football career. I played in the World Football League for the Southern California Suns in Anaheim in 1975. That league folded that year. The next year I tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and was injured in the preseason, which ended my football career. I came back to Las Vegas and I started working in hotel security. I then moved into table games and worked as a dealer, a box person, a floor supervisor, pit manager, shift manager and casino host. I retired from Caesars Palace in 2008 when I went into the hospital for my heart transplant.
What led to you having a heart transplant?
In my case it was a hereditary heart defect. My father passed away at a young age, 45, and older my brother passed away at 49 with the same heart defect. In 1994, when I was working at the MGM Grand, I was diagnosed and had an internal defibrillator installed. I lived with that from 1994 until 2008 and that is when my heart took a turn for the worse. They flew me by medevac from Las Vegas to the UCLA Medical Center and when I arrived my heart efficiency was down to less than five percent. They had to install a vascular assist device, a pump that pumped the blood and oxygen through my body. They then put me on a list for a heart transplant and five days later I received my heart. I only had that bridge for five days and I received my new heart. It was crazy because I received my heart two weeks before Runnin' Rebel Hall of Famer Glen Gondrezick, who was playing basketball the same time I was playing football. About a week later I walked from my room to Glen's and we watched football and talked about the old days at UNLV. Unfortunately Glen's heart rejected and he is no longer with us, but I was really grateful to spend that time with him.
How did your life change after the procedure?
In 1994 when I had my defibrillator installed, it was a wakeup call. My priorities and perspectives kind of changed. I wasn't able to do things that I was able to do before like play softball, racquetball and golf. I remember the last time I played golf, I was in bed for two days after. After they installed vascular assist device I felt a noticeable change. I was finally getting blood and oxygen flowing through my body. Going through a life changing or near death experience like that makes you reprioritize things in your life. I was very corporate minded when I was working in the casino business and that was my focus. But after my transplant my priorities are now family, friends, enjoying life, taking it one day at a time and not taking everything so seriously. I also volunteer and talk about the importance of becoming an organ donor. I talk to high school students about the importance of that because tomorrow is not promised to any of us and it is important to make our wishes known. If my donor's family did not make the decisions they made, I probably would not be here today.
Why did you want to take part in the Transplant Games?
I volunteer for the Nevada Donor Network and that is where I speak on their behalf at different functions and events. I also share my story about my life and my transplant. They approached me and asked me if I was interested or if I would be. I had never heard of the games prior to that. I said "sure, but I would have to get in the gym and step up my workout program a little bit, but I would be more than happy to participate." Four months prior to the games I focused on conditioning and going to the gym three days a week. I joined a table tennis team and I played three days a week. In the games I won a silver medal in table tennis and bronze medal in the discus. I just missed medaling in my third event, shot put, by about three inches. The Nevada Donor Network put a four-person team together that consisted of three from Las Vegas and one from Reno. We went to Houston and won nine medals between the four of us.
What was your favorite experience of the games?
Meeting all the people from around the country who had gone through similar situations that I experienced. I met a gentleman on the bus and he was from the east coast and he had a transplant in the same year and the same month that I did. And here we were six years later at the transplant games. That was just an awesome experience. Then running into my former teammate, Steve Haggerty, was just icing on the cake. I didn't recognize him and accidentally bumped into him. That was definitely a highlight of my trip running into a former teammate. We traded stories and his story was that he had a double-lung transplant. Steve was one of the fastest guys on our team back in '74. He was running a 4.3 40-yard dash.
A UNLV prediction: How do you think the Rebels fare in 2014?
Well I think they are going to do pretty good. I think they had a good recruiting year and by them going to a bowl game last season, it helped boost a little notoriety. I think they are going to do well. If they stay healthy they have a chance to make it to another bowl game.